Indian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh, cease harassing him in retaliation for his work, and allow him to report freely and safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On Sunday, July 17, police in the Ramgarh district of eastern Jharkhand state arrested Singh, a freelance journalist, following a nine-hour raid on his home, according to multiple news reports and Singh’s wife, Ipsa Shatakshi, who spoke to CPJ by phone.
During the raid, police seized two mobile phones, two laptops, a hard drive, a notebook, and some personal items, according to those sources.
Shatakshi told CPJ that police informed Singh that his arrest was in response to the journalist’s voice being featured in a file on a solid-state hard drive, a type of digital storage, seized from Maoist rebels. She said authorities had not provided her with a copy of a first information report, a police document that opens an investigation, against Singh.
Shatakshi told CPJ on Monday evening that, despite 24 hours having passed since Singh’s arrest, police had not presented him before a magistrate to hear his bail application. According to Article 22 of the Indian constitution, detainees must be produced before the nearest magistrate within 24 hours of their arrest.
“The arrest of journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh following a nine-hour raid on his home demonstrates that the Indian government’s harassment and intimidation of journalists have no bounds,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in Madrid. “Authorities must immediately release Singh, drop any investigations brought in retaliation for his work, and allow him to report without interference.”
Singh reports extensively on the rights of tribal communities, known as Adivasis, and other marginalized people for the news websites Janchowk and Media Vigil. On July 15, he published a thread on his Twitter account, where he has about 4,900 followers, on the impact of industrial and air pollution on the health of populations in Jharkhand villages.
The Wire reported that police arrested Singh in relation to an investigation into several other people accused of Maoist activities in violation of various sections of the penal code, the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act.
Previously, in 2019, police in the neighboring state of Bihar similarly accused Singh of links with banned Maoist groups and detained him for six months, according to news reports. Singh told Newslaundry at the time that he believed security forces targeted him in retaliation for his reporting on the alleged extrajudicial killing of a tribal worker. He was released on bail after police did not file a chargesheet within 180 days as required by law, according to those reports.
At least three of Singh’s mobile phone numbers were potentially targeted by Pegasus spyware, according to 2021 reporting by The Wire as part of the Pegasus Project. Singh and Shatakshi are lead petitioners in a case at the Supreme Court of India concerning the government’s alleged use of Pegasus to target journalists and human rights activists, according to various news reports.
Niraj Sinha, director-general of the Jharkhand police, did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
The Israeli company NSO Group, which created Pegasus, says it sells only to official law enforcement agencies, and Indian government officials said in 2021 that the Pegasus Project’s reporting had no substance.
CPJ’s 2021 annual prison census found that at least seven journalists were detained in India and Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir as of December 1, 2021, setting the country’s record for the highest number of detained journalists since at least 1992.