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Kanker

Journalist in Bastar Booked Under Sedition Charges Over Facebook Post photo credit: Facebook

Bastar based journalist – activist Kamal Shukla has been booked under sedition charges for sharing a cartoon on Facebook that allegedly ridicules government and judiciary. The cartoon pertained to the controversy over the death of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Judge B H Loya, who was presiding over the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case. Judge Loya had died under mysterious circumstances at Nagpur in December 2014. The accused in the case included BJP president Amit Shah.

The post, for which Shukla has been booked, is no longer available on his Facebook page. He denied deleting the post and said that Facebook might have taken it down.

“It was a cartoon on Judiciary and politicians which I had shared after the Supreme Court’s judgment on Judge Loya’s suspicious death. Facebook seems to have deleted it from their side. I am searching for the cartoon and I will share it again. How can the authorities be so intolerant? I just expressed my thoughts on the condition of judiciary today,” he said.

A case has been registered against him at the Katwali police station in Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district. On April 28, 2018, a first-person report was lodged charging the journalist with sedition. ‘We booked Shukla under Section 124-A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code on the basis of a complaint filed by a Rajasthan resident. The case was handed to us by the cyber cell in Raipur. An investigation is on, and appropriate action will be taken soon,” Kanker superintendent of police KL Dhruv told Hindustan Times.

Dhruv confirmed that the case pertained to a ‘derogatory cartoon’ against the Indian judiciary and government on the social networking site. He told a Scroll.in correspondent that no arrest warrant would be issued till the investigation was complete. Asked if the matter demanded sedition charges, Dhruv responded with a curt ‘Yes’.

According to the Scroll.in report, 50-year-old Shukla was amused at this new charge. ‘I believe that people who love their country and its democracy openly express their opinion when they see it being weakened,’ he said. ‘The post was close to sharing my concern for the dwindling autonomy of the judiciary in the wake of the Loya case. How can this be considered anti-national? I would say those people should be considered anti-national who are not concerned about the growing interference of the government in the judiciary’s autonomy.’ On the question of whether he’s taking legal assistance on the issue, Shukla said, ‘I’m looking at all available options.’

News18 quote Shukla as saying ‘I don’t know how anyone finds me a seditionist. I think I’ve earned a reputation, over the last several years through by reporting, for being a fierce nationalist. This is frankly a big joke.’

Shukla also made his stance clear in a Facebook post on Monday afternoon where he said that he was not afraid of this kind of ‘hooliganism’. He said that as long as he was alive his voice or his pen would not stop.

He claimed that he was targeted by right-wing activists in an attempt to prevent him from exposing the government ahead of the Chhattisgarh assembly elections.

Shukla is a journalist who has written extensively on Adivasi rights in Chhattisgarh. Cases have been filed against him previously and were related to defamation, insult to provoke breach of peace, public mischief and creating religious enmity. All of it attempted to put an end to his reporting.

He started his career in Durg, 1986 where he met Raj Narayan Mishra, the editor of daily Deshbandu. Later Shukla started a regular column for Amar Kiran called Police Parikrama. In it he exposed the nexus between the police and local goons running gambling operations. After this series, his home was ransacked, and he got beaten up.

Shukla’s stint as a reporter and senior editor with the prominent daily Dandakaranya Samachar in Jagdalpur, Bastar, from 1991 to 1994, gave him the opportunity to observe South Bastar and its residents closely. He quit in 1994 as Dandakaranya Samachar found it difficult to safeguard him or its own freedom to publish in relation with exclusive reporting by Shukla.

He then covered news in Bastar as an independent journalist for several national Hindi weekly newspapers and dailies, especially on the changing cultural, social and economic milieu of the Adivasis.

His stint with the Hindi-language daily Rajasthan Patrika in Kanker lasted only two years. It ended in 2012 after a story on illegal tree felling that implicated the state’s forest minister and a local MLA led to goons barging into the Patrika office and beating him up.

This forced him to set up his own newspaper, Bhumkal Samachar, in 2012. It was later converted to a news website because of the lack of funds. “’With little or no resources, a daily print publication was impossible,” he said.

 

Kamal Shukla in Gompad village         image credit: Scroll.in

He led a campaign late in 2015 under the banner of Patrakar Suraksha Kanoon Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti to seek the promulgation of a law that would protect journalists in Chhattisgarh. Many journalists across the state joined this campaign.

That year, Shukla was among a team of journalists that met Chief Minister Raman Singh. This meeting led to the state government’s decision to issue a circular in February 2016 in which it announced the setting up of a high-level coordination committee ‘to prevent harassment of journalists’.

The sedition charges against Kamal Shukla come in the wake of several other attacks on freedom of expression and free press, especially in impoverished states such as Chhattisgarh where Adivasis are facing off against large corporates.

Nearly a dozen journalists have been targeted similarly in the past few years under various sections of Indian Penal Code including sedition. Some of them included Lingaram Kodopi, Santosh YadavPrabhat SinghSomaru Nag and others.

Journalists from Bastar complain that they are targeted on the basis of false cases and by extra-judicial vigilante gangs constituted to hound human rights activists and journalists who report against governments. And reporting from the frontlines of the government-Naxal conflict, often makes them susceptible to threats from Naxals as well.

In 2016, a fact-finding team from the Editors Guild of India had traveled to Bastar and submitted a report containing their findings. The members claimed that there was “a sense of fear” among the journalists in Bastar and mentioned that, ‘the state government wants the media to see its fight with the Maoists as a fight for the nation and expects the media to treat it as a national security issue, and not raise any questions about it.”, The Wire reported.

Shukla’s lawyer Kishore Narayan has filed a petition in the high court to quash the first information report against him. ‘The matter falls nowhere near the definition of sedition and we are hopeful for relief,’ said Narayan to Scroll.in. ‘The Chhattisgarh police is only looking for opportunities to suppress the freedom of expression and harass journalists who have been exposing their unconstitutional activities such as fake encounters,’ they said.

Meanwhile, in Hyderabad, Syed Abdul Bair Mussavir, the administrator of the Facebook page where the cartoon was originally published, was released on bail on May 2. He was arrested by the Delhi police under three section of the Information Technology Act, including one that relates to the publication or transmission of material containing sexually explicit acts in electronic form.

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