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Authorities must independently investigate the beating of eight prisoners, including journalist Santosh Yadav, in the Jagdalpur central jail, Amnesty International India said today. 

On November 2, according to Yadav’s family and media reports, the state police beat the prisoners with batons after they peacefully protested against the quality of food served at the jail. The next day, the police registered a criminal case against the prisoners for offenses including ‘rioting,’ ‘obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions’ and ‘assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty.’ Yadav’s relatives say they have not been allowed to see him since the incident.

“Prisoners have a right to peaceful protest. The Chhattisgarh police must respect this right, and ensure that any allegations of unnecessary use of force against protestors are investigated,” said Makepeace Sitlhou, campaigner at Amnesty International India. “Prisoners must not be prevented from meeting their families and lawyers.”

Yadav’s brother, Jitender Yadav, told Amnesty International India that Santosh had called him on November 11 from a hospital in Jagdalpur where he had been examined by a doctor. He said, “[Santosh] told us he was beaten severely by the police. Both his wife and I have tried to meet him separately but the jail authorities refused permission.”

A police official at Kotwali police station, where the FIR against the prisoners was registered, said, “The prisoners had some demands for which they were only willing to speak to senior officials and not jail authorities. The police had to use force to disperse them back into their cells. The force used was proportionate.”

Despite several attempts, Amnesty International India could not reach the jail superintendent for a comment. On November 11, Yadav was transferred to a district jail in Kanker, Chhattisgarh, about 192 kilometers from his home in Darbha.

Yadav was arrested on September 29, 2015 and is being held under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, both of which violate international human rights law and standards.

He was accused of being involved in an attack by a Maoist armed group on security forces on August 21, 2015. However, the case against him rests primarily on the testimony of a police official who said he had identified the journalist at night, by the light of a flare, from over a hundred Maoist fighters. The police official subsequently failed to definitively identify Yadav in an identification parade. Yadav’s name did not feature in the list of accused persons in the First Information Report on the incident.

It is believed that Yadav is being targeted for his work among Indigenous Adivasi communities in Bastar district, Chhattisgarh, and that the allegations against him are fabricated.

The journalist’s family has previously alleged that he was tortured in custody on November 30, 2015. Yadav told Amnesty International in August 2016 that he had also received threats to his life from an inmate. His lawyer alleged that he was also stripped and humiliated by the state police in June 2015.

Yadav’s application for bail has been rejected twice. Another application is pending before the Supreme Court. On October 17, the court asked the Chhattisgarh state government to respond to the bail petition.

“Santosh Yadav must be immediately released, and all charges against him dropped,” said Sitlhou. “Any charges filed against prisoners simply for protesting against prison conditions are by no means justified.”

The Comptroller Auditor General said in a 2014 report that the Chhattisgarh government had failed to provide prisoners access to sanitation and a hygienic environment. Chhattisgarh has the most overcrowded prisons in India. Research by the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, a group of human rights lawyers, showed that the occupancy rate in the Jagdalpur central jail in 2013 was 260 percent.