Now C'garh police use sedition against journalist

BY GEETA SESHU| IN Media Freedom | 15/05/2018
Journalist Kamal Shukla waits for a court verdict about the sedition charge against him over posting a cartoon on Facebook
GEETA SESHU reports

 

The charge of sedition still hangs like the proverbial sword of Damocles over Chhattisgarh journalist, Kamal Shukla, as the Chhattisgarh High Court deferred a hearing on a petition seeking a quashing of the FIR against him to June 25.

Advocate Kishore Narayan told The Hoot that the petition also prayed for interim relief on the arrest. In any case, there is a committee comprising government officials and prominent journalists in Chhattisgarh which reviews all cases against journalists, and this is looking into the matter. Ironically, as convener of the Patrakar Suraksha Kanoon Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti,  Shukla was amongst the prime movers of this committee following a number of cases against journalists in the state.

The Press Council of India has also taken suo moto notice of the issue and has asked both the Chhattisgarh government, as well as Shukla, to file their responses giving full details of the case. Shukla is also editor of a registered newspaper Bhumkal Samachar.

Earlier, talking to The Hoot, Shukla was unsurprised at the alacrity with which police in Kanker district, Chhattisgarh, registered a case of sedition against him on May 2, 2018, on a complaint lodged by a citizen of Rajasthan for an allegedly objectionable cartoon on his Facebook page.

The colonial-era law of sedition under Section 124 –A of the Indian Penal Code, is applied to ‘whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government estab­lished by law inIndia’. It attracts a punishment of up to life imprisonment.

Shukla told The Hoot that he had learnt of the sedition charge from newspaper reports. Police investigations are on and he is yet to be summoned. Shukla has been vocal in his criticism of the Bastar police and in the forefront of a struggle by Chhattisgarh journalists for a law to protect them.

Speaking about the cartoon which someone had shared and which he posted on his Facebook wall, Shukla refers to the recent happenings in the Supreme Court from the time the four senior judges held a press conference to the passage of the judgement on the Loya petition.

“My anger was also the same as others in the country and it was in this context that I posted the cartoon that someone had shared. I thought it illustrated the frightening state of the country,” he said.

The charge of sedition translates as rashtradroh (traitor to the nation). In fact, he argued, calling him a traitor to the country was completely wrong. He was motivated by a deep concern for the country, a sentiment also shared by so many others.

“I think those who do not show any concern for this nation are the true rashtradrohis,” he said.

 

"Ironically, as convener of the Patrakar Suraksha Kanoon Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti, Shukla was amongst the prime movers of this committee following a number of cases against journalists in the state."

 

Investigations by local journalists reveal that the complainant, Punit Jangir, is a resident of Rajasthan and, going by his Facebook profile, is a supporter of the BJP. According to local journalists, he originally filed a complaint with the office of the President of India and this was referred to the Chhattisgarh police, which then took action to register an FIR, applying sedition provisions to the complaint.

The cartoon, which was shared on his Facebook wall, was mysteriously deleted. Shukla said that he had not taken it down and couldn’t understand how Facebook took it down on its own, without so much as an intimation to him.

The cartoon itself is a brutal and explicit depiction of the blindfolded Lady of Justice on the ground, held down by four male figures while another is readying to rape her. The faces of the male figures are prominent politicians, political leaders and members of the judiciary.

It is a photoshopped version of a 2008 cartoon by South African cartoonist, Jonathan Shapiro, better known as Zapiro. Widely available on the internet, this cartoon shows the then President of the African National Congress, Jacob Zuma, and his supporters holding down the Lady of Justice while Zuma gets ready to rape her.

The cartoon drew protests and demands for an apology, which Zapiro refused to tender.  Subsequently, there were other cartoons drawn by Zapiro on protecting free speech, again using the female figure to typify the defenceless and the powerless.

Journalists in Chhattisgarh have come out against the sedition charge against Shukla and have held meetings to condemn it. They said that this was yet another attempt by the police in Chhattisgarh to browbeat those journalists who are critical of police excesses.

In the last three years, at least four journalists – Prabhat Singh and Deepak Jaiswal, Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag - have been arrested on various charges. Vigilante groups, with the tacit support of the police, hounded another journalist, Malini Subramaniam, out of Bastar in February 2016.

Various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, the Arms Act, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act were deployed against the arrested journalists. It was only after a concerted campaign, as well as a legal battle, that they managed to get bail. Yadav, for instance, managed to secure bail only after a whole year.

While this is the first time the provision of sedition has been used against journalists, it was applied for film-maker Ajay T G in May 2008, a year after the arrest of the doctor and well known public health activist Dr Binayak Sen.

The latter, who was convicted of sedition with life imprisonment by a sessions court in Chhattisgarh and granted bail by the Supreme Court a year later, had argued that there was no substantial evidence against him.

Yet, he spent more than two years in jail and was also charged under the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967.

Ajay T G managed to secure a discharge in 2016, a full eight years later!

Shukla’s now deleted Facebook post does not call for violence but merely says that the cartoon, whoever made it, only reflects an alarming reality today.

An opinion that is hardly cause to charge him with a law that threatens to lock him up for life.

 

Geeta Seshu is consulting editor at  The Hoot.

 

 

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