India: arrest & ill-treatment of HRD & journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to the Government of India on 26 October 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Regrettably, the Government did not reply within this time frame. If a reply is received it will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication

BACKGROUND

Topic: alleged illegal arrest and ill-treatment of the human rights defender and journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh.

Rupesh Kumar Singh has been an independent journalist since 2014 located in Jharkhand’s Ramgarh district. His work focuses mainly on human rights violations as well as the rights of tribal communities known as Adivasis, and other marginalized people. He has worked for the news websites Janchowk and Media Virgil. In June 2019, he was arrested by the Gaya police under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and released on bail in December 2019 as the police did not file a charge heet for the case.

ALLEGATIONS   

On 15 July 2022, he published a thread on his Twitter account on the impact of industrial and air pollution on the health of populations in Jharkhand villages. Mr. Singh’s name is on the list of potential targets of surveillance through Israeli spyware Pegasus. Mr. Singh and his wife filed a petition in the Supreme Court to question the constitutionality of such surveillance.

On 17 July 2022, at around 5.25 a.m., 10 male and female personnel in uniform and dispatched in seven official vehicles, reached Mr. Singh’s residence with a search warrant. The team was led by a Deputy Superintendent and personnel from police stations.

The search operation, led by the district police, lasted for 9 hours. However, after the deputy Superintendent of Police, received a call on his phone, Mr. Singh and his family were forced out of the residence and blocked from entering their residence for about half an hour.

During the search, the police seized two mobile phones, two laptops (including Mr. Singh’s, his wife’s and sister-in-law’s), a hard disk, a bed sheet, a tax invoice for a motorcycle, a nine-page notebook and a retail invoice of a car. Though the list was countersigned by Mr. Singh and his family, no estimation of the value for the seized electronic devices was provided.

At around 1.30 p.m., the police showed an arrest warrant issued by the Sub- Divisional Judicial Magistrate (SDJM) court in Saraikela on 16 July 2022. Mr. Singh was arrested at 1.40 p.m. according to First Information Report (FIR) no. 67/21, under sections 10 and 13 of the UAPA, under sections 420, 467 and 471 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and under 17 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act.

He was then brought to the office of the State Intelligence Bureau in Ranchi, where he was interrogated for five to six hours by the Deputy Inspector General, Special Task Force and another officer from the Special Branch. During the interrogation, police officers claimed that photographs and audio files found on a hard disk showing that Mr. Singh had participated in a Maoist Camp, which are considered as terrorist organizations under the UAPA. The other man was arrested and charged in November 2021 as an alleged Maoist leader under sections 420, 467, 468 and 471 of the IPC, Section 17 of the Criminal Law (amendment) and Sections 10 and 13 of the UAPA. However, at the time of the charges, Mr. Singh was not questioned in connection with the case. The allegations of participation in a Maoist camp were denied by Mr. Singh. At around 10.00 p.m., Mr. Singh was taken from Intelligence Bureau in Ranchi to the office of the Deputy Superintendent , where he was further interrogated and detained overnight.

On 18 July 2022, at around 3.30 p.m., Mr. Singh was taken for a medical examination. He was produced in the SDJM court in Saraikela at around 5.00 p.m. on 18 July 2022, nearly 27 hours after his arrest. He was remanded in custody until he gets bail. During the police custody, from 1.40 p.m. on 17 July 2022 until 5.00 p.m. on 18 July 2022, Mr. Singh was not allowed to sleep, because of continuous interrogations from the police.

On 18 July 2022, after having appeared in the court, he was taken back by the police and kept for a few days in a cell of five rooms in which he was kept with prisoners having infectious diseases (one having Hepatitis B; one having leprosy and two having tuberculosis). Mr. Singh was then shifted to an abandoned building of the jail, where he was the only prisoner.

From 19 July 2022 to 21 July 2022, Mr. Singh was sleep deprived during these two nights because of constant interrogations from the police. Since August 24th, following protests from civil society about Mr. Singh’s detention conditions, other prisoners were moved to the same building and Mr. Singh was provided with paper and a pen to be able to write.

Mr. Singh has severe problem of pain and strain in veins of his legs that becomes more severe during mental stress. There is a compression on his vein in his back that could be aggravated in stressful situations as the medicine that Mr. Singh is taking requires adequate sleep. There is no additional information on whether it did aggravate Mr. Singh’s health situation. However, the lack of sleep coupled with his conditions of detention are factors that could aggravate it.

CONCERNS

While we do not wish to prejudge the accuracy of these allegations, we are expressing our concern on the allegations of arbitrary detention as well as ill-treatment of Mr. Singh. Our related concern is that Mr. Singh is reportedly falsely charged, in retaliation of his legitimate human rights work. We further express concern on the health condition of Mr. Singh, that could be aggravated by sleep deprivation and its close proximity with prisoners of infectious diseases.

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