UPDATE: On September 20, a day after Newslaundry reported about Prabhat Singh’s disappearance, Singh posted this message on Facebook to let everyone know he was safe and secure.
(I am now safe, don’t worry about me. I would like to express my gratitude to everyone. I’m in touch with my lawyer. If you’d like to get any news about me, please speak to my lawyer Kishore Narayan.)
Singh has requested that his location remain undisclosed. The original article detailing the circumstances of his disappearance are below.
Based in South Bastar’s Dantewada, journalist Prabhat Singh was arrested in March this year for a Whatsapp message. After being released on bail, Singh told Newslaundry that he felt he had been targeted because of the anti-sarkar (State) line he’d taken and because he’d had the temerity to question Inspector General of Chhattisgarh Police Shiv Ram Prasad Kalluri about an encounter that many suspected was fake.
Since Saturday morning, Prabhat Singh has been untraceable.
Several journalists and activists on social media are claiming that he has been picked up by Bastar police, but his whereabouts remain unknown. Like several other journalists and activists in Chhattisgarh, Singh too was on Chhattisgarh police’s radar allegedly.
Speaking to Newslaundry, Singh’s colleague and close aide, journalist Kamal Shukla said Singh had told Shukla that he was afraid of being kidnapped. “He [Singh] called me on Saturday from an unknown number. I asked him to somehow reach to Raipur,” said Shukla. That was the last that has been heard of Singh.
Shukla’s sources in the police have told him that Chhattisgarh Police was planning to apprehend Singh and “drop him” in the middle of a protest by Agnee, a new vigilante group that’s been formed along lines similar to that of Samajik Ekta Manch. The assumption was that Prabhat would be attacked by them. However, there is no confirmation from any source that Singh is in police custody.
On September 16, Singh went to Jagdalpur District court for a hearing of his own case (Singh has been out on bail).
On his way back to Dantewada, he got a call from someone named TI Dutta, who claimed to be from Jagdalpur police. Dutta asked him to report to Jagdalpur police station by 4.30pm in the evening. The caller identified himself as the officer who had earlier arrested Singh. He sounded miffed by Singh’s statement in the court that the police had treated him badly while he was in custody (Singh has complained of physical assault and not being provided food). The caller also told Singh his contacts in Delhi wouldn’t able to save him.
Newslaundry tried to reach the number from which Singh had received the call, but didn’t get any response.
Singh recorded the conversation and forwarded the audio file to Shukla, who shared it with Newslaundry.
“I am afraid that on the directions of Chhattisgarh government the kidnappers of Inspector General Shiv Ram Prasad Kalluri will kidnap me on basis of forged cases,” was one of the last messages Singh sent to a Whatsapp group before disappearing.
Newslaundry asked the IG about Singh. However, rather than shedding any light on Singh’s whereabouts, Kalluri asked us, “Is there any criminal record against Mr Prabhat Singh?” He advised us to get in touch with the police station that is handling Singh’s case.
While Singh’s location remains unknown, the only thing this case makes clear is how difficult it is for journalists to work freely in Chhattisgarh, where reporters must negotiate their way between insurgent groups, vigilantes and law enforcement that is hostile to them.