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Journalist Poonam Agarwal charged after exposing military abuse

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On 27 March 2017, human rights journalist Poonam Agarwal was charged under sections of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and the Indian Penal Code relating to criminal trespass and abetting suicide. The Indian Army had filed a complaint against her in relation to a video report she had shot exposing the abuse of junior soldiers within the Army.

On 27 March 2017, Nashik police, in the Northwest region of Maharashtra, filed a case of abetting suicide (punishable by imprisonment of up to ten years) and criminal trespass (under Sections 3 and 7 of the Official Secrets Act) against Poonam Agarwal. The case was registered due to a complaint from the Army, which was filed against the human rights defender in relation to a video report published by The Quint on 24 February 2017. The report revealed exploitation  of enlisted men that the military’s ‘sahayak system’ involves.. The Sahayak (“buddy”) system had previously come under heavy criticism for its mistreatment of junior soldiers, “jawans” Soon after the story was published, one of the soldiers featured, but whose identity was obscured, in the video, Roy Matthew, was found dead, having allegedly committed suicide. The Quint subsequently took down the report. 

Journalist Poonam Agarwal (610x470)
Journalist Poonam Agarwal

This is not the first time charges under the OSA - a 1923 anti-espionage act held over from British colonisation - have been used against journalists who report on sensitive stories. On 30 March 2017, Poonam Agarwal filed a bail petition at Nashik Sessions Court, but the date of her hearing is scheduled for 1 April 2017.

Human rights defenders in India face a diverse range of attacks and harassment for their work defending the rights of others and exposing human rights abuses, including killings, torture, ill-treatment, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, smear campaigns, and judicial harassment. Journalists exposing human rights abuses are particularly targeted, by both state and non-state actors.

Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the charges brought against Poonam Agarwal, which it believes are solely motivated by her legitimate and peaceful activities in the defence of human rights in India.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in India to:

  1. Immediately drop all charges against Poonam Agarwal as it believes that they are solely motivated by her legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights;
  2. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in India are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

About Poonam Agarwal

Poonam Agarwal is an investigative journalist and WHRD working for the online news portal The Quint, covering human rights in India and the abuse of law by powerful members of society. She has exposed corruption scams in India, including the 2G spectrum scam involving high-ranking Indian officials. Poonam has worked for several Indian media outlets writing on sensitive topics such as Kashmiri militants, political funding and corporate spying. She has also spoken out against cyber-harassment.

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