For journalists in India, 2018 was a deadly year

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Last month, a Facebook video criticising Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi got a journalist in the northeastern state into trouble. After being on bail for a short period, Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha has been detained for 12 months. Wangkhemcha worked for ISTV, a local news channel. Even though the detention came as a shock to journalists across India, repression of such voices at various levels is not new.

India is one of the deadliest countries for journalists as per the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Barometer of 2018 in terms of journalists dying in the line of duty. As per the list of RSF, the number of journalists killed has also been high in countries such as Afghanistan (14), Mexico (7), US (6) and Yemen (5). Six journalists have been killed in India this year. In most of the cases, the journalists were killed for exposing corruption. While these journalists tried to bring some illegal activity to light, little effort has been made to understand whether their families have received justice.

Let’s look into the status of the investigations into the deaths of these six journalists.

Achyutananda Sahu

Achyutananda Sahu, a Doordarshan cameraman, accompanied by two others, was caught in a crossfire in the Maoist-affected Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, when a group of suspected Maoists opened fire on security forces. The Doordarshan team visited the region for election coverage. The firing on October 30 killed two police officers and Sahu. A month after the incident, Sahu’s family struggles to make ends meet. Sahu was the only source of stable income for the family, who fall in the below poverty line (BPL) category. “They are living in a very precarious condition. All his brothers are marginal farmers,” says Monoranjan, a bureau chief of OTV in Balangir district.

On the same day of the incident, Information and Broadcasting Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore had announced financial assistance of Rs.15 lakh to the family. However, even though a month has passed, government officials, including the district collector, are yet to visit Sahu’s family. “To maintain formality, project director of district administration attended the funeral of Sahu. After that, not even a single government official visited his house,” a source revealed. The family is yet to receive the compensation as well as a job to his wife in Doordarshan as promised earlier.

There is no information on the progress of investigations into the killing of Sahu.

Chandan Tiwari

The condition of the family of murdered Jharkhand journalist Chandan Tiwari remains no different from the plight of Sahu’s kin. Tiwari worked for AJ, a Hindi newspaper in Jharkhand. In connection to his death, two out of three suspects have been arrested. The primary suspect is still on the run. Jamuna Prasad and Musafir Rana were arrested. They are believed to be the members of Tritiya Prastuti Committee, a Maoist group in Jharkhand.

Tiwari is survived by two small kids, his wife and his father. He was the sole breadwinner of the family.

On April 2, Tiwari exposed corruption in a government scheme—the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme—by the village head. Receiving threats, Tiwari filed a police complaint. In one of his Facebook posts, Tiwari mentioned about authorities being silent even after his complaint.

Tiwari was abducted and beaten to death in a forest of Jharkhand. No official statement of financial assistance has been made by the Jharkhand government. However, the Jharkhand Journalist Association, affiliated to IFWJ, has requested Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das for a compensation of Rs.10 lakh and a government job for Tiwari’s wife. The letter also demands the arrest of Pintu Singh, the absconding suspect.

Shujaat Bukhari

The killing of Shujaat Bukhari outside his office in Srinagar in June was a shock for the whole nation. As the editor of Rising Kashmir, Bukhari was a public figure who was instrumental in trying to bring peace to Jammu and Kashmir. Bukhari was actively involved in track-II diplomacy with Pakistan.

The group behind Bukhari’s murder has not been identified definitively. While police officials have held Lashkar-e-Taiba responsible, the militant group has blamed Indian intelligence agencies for Bukhari’s murder.

“Initially, it was informed that three militants were involved in the killing and there is no hand of Lashkar. After a week or two, in a press conference, they revealed that LeT was involved. They came up with an entirely different version.” a source revealed.

As part of the investigation, two LeT militants, Azad Ahmad Malik and Naveed Jutt, were killed in an encounter in Budgam in November.

Other cases

Two journalists, Navin Nischal and Vijay Singh of Dainik Bhaskar, were mowed down by an SUV on March 25 in the Arrah region of Bihar. Navin had reported on child marriage and land division cases earlier. The status of the investigation into their deaths is still unknown. Reports claim a former village head who executed the crime was detained.

On March 26, Sandeep Sharma, a reporter, was hit by a truck in Bhind, Madhya Pradesh. Sharma worked for a local channel, News World. His coverage on the local sand mafia and police corruption was suspected to be main reason behind the crime. “Sharma was denied police protection and the police asked for the camera he had used to conduct a sting (operation). They took the original recording and never gave it back,” Rizwan Ahmad Siddiqui, Sharma’s colleague, told The Guardian. The truck driver was arrested, but there appears to have been little progress in investigations after that.

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