Peoples Union for Democratic Rights condemns the killing of Sai Reddy, a correspondent of Deshbandhu, a Hindi newspaper, based in Bijapur in south Bastar, Chhattisgarh on December 6, 2013. In a statement issued on December 10, 2013, the South Regional Committee of CPI(Maoist) claimed that Sai Reddy had “played an active role against the people’s movement in Basaguda and Usur areas over last two decades”, and therefore was condemned to death. Ironically, Sai Reddy not only wrote against Salwa Judum but was arrested by the police in 2008 and charged under Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act for allegedly being a Maoist supporter.
Earlier this year, on February 12, 2013, the body of another local journalist Nemichand Jain, a stringer for Haribhoomi, Nai Duniya and Dainik Bhaskar, was found near Nama village in Sukma district. After several months, the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of the CPI(Maoist) apologized on 1st October for the killing of Nemichand Jain claiming that it was “a miscalculation and result of narrow-mindedness of the lower committee”. Such an apology falls short of the obligation which all sides in an armed conflict have towards civilians in general and non-combatants like journalists/doctors/teachers etc, in particular. For one, an apology after killing means little because it does not commit the Party to put a stop to carrying out death sentences, as evident from the more recent killing of Sai Reddy.
Apart from this, such conduct goes against the humanitarian laws which govern armed conflicts/wars. Article 79 of Protocol I of Geneva Convention (1949) says that journalists “engaged in dangerous professional mission in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians….” Since the CPI(Maoist) by their own admission claim that reporter Sai Reddy was an ‘informer’ they violated the explicit bar against mistreatment including killing. Furthermore, it is expressly prohibited to kill a ‘Prisoner of War’ or for that matter anyone else taken into custody be it a combatant or a civilian.
PUDR is aware that threats to media and other non-combatants such as doctors, health workers, teachers etc., are widespread at the hands of Indian security forces in almost all the theatres of war inside the country. In these areas where military suppression of the Maoist-led Adivasis is being carried out, reporters come under fire for carrying a statement of the CPI(Maoist) just as they are perceived to be hostile if anything critical is written about the security forces. Besides, reporters also face problems writing against the mining companies because of pressure from their editors who are afraid of antagonizing the owners of such companies. Often news of attacks by security forces on villages is suppressed out of fear, such as the media blackout of the burning of scores of houses by the security forces in hamlets under Pidiya gram panchayat in Bijapur district. However, the lapses and pusillanimity of the media or the dastardly role of the security forces cannot justify the killing of media personnel.
PUDR is convinced that death sentence meted out by CPI (Maoist) held People’s Court cannot be defended because all death sentences are arbitrary, subjective and irrevocable. Consequently, PUDR urges the CPI (Maoist) to specifically disavow attacks on media persons/civilians and to follow the dos and don’t’s enshrined in the Geneva Convention (1949) and Protocol II (1977) for all combatants.
Asish Gupta and D Manjit