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India’s Waning Journo-Murder Index

India’s Waning Journo-Murder Index

As the year 2017 roles on, India stands at an awkward position over the journo-murder index, as the populous country has witnessed the murder of at least four professional journalists in six months. Shockingly, the largest democracy in the globe has also earned a bad name in bringing the culprits to justice prompting the media fraternity to continue its old demand for a special protection law for the journalists on duty.

The year started with sad news as the dead body of a Jharkhand based scribe recovered from Hazaribag locality. Hari Prakash, 31, whose body was found on January 2 on a roadside, was missing for some days. The family members of Hari, who was a law graduate and used to work for a Hindi daily, alleged that he was kidnapped by the miscreants to finally  kill the reporter.

Another bad news was waiting for the media families as a Bihar based journalist was shot dead at Samastipur locality on January 3 by some unidentified goons. Brajesh Kumar Singh, 28, received serious injuries on his head and died on the spot. It was the third assassination of journalists in Bihar within a year after Rajdeo Ranjan and Dharmendra Kumar Singh killed last year.

The third and fourth incidents involving the murder of working journalists were reported from Madhya Pradesh. Shyam Sharma, 40, who was engaged with a local evening newspaper, was stabbed to death by miscreants at Anshul locality of Indore on May 15. Shyam received multiple injuries and died on the spot. Meanwhile, the local police have arrested two individuals suspecting their primary role in the murder case.

On the other hand, Kamlesh Jain, 42, was shot dead in his office at Pipliyamandi locality of Mandsaur on the evening of May 31.  Kamlesh was rushed to a nearby hospital, where the attending doctors declared him brought dead.  According to the police on duty, two miscreants entered into Kamlesh’s office and one of them shot him. The culprits quickly fled from the location with their motorcycle. Engaged with a Hindi daily (Nai Dunia), the journalist lately exposed few local people involved in illegal liquor trades through a number roadside Dhabas (restaurants). He was also threatened by those criminals with dire consequences few days back. The police as usual took prompt actions and arrested two individuals suspecting their role in the crime.

Various media organizations like Madhya Pradesh Journalist Union (MPJU), Journalists’ Forum Assam (JFA), National Federation of Newspaper Employees (NFNE), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) etc. have expressed serious concern over the murder of the journalists and asked the responsible authorities to book the culprits under the law of the land. Condemning the assassinations of Shyam and Kamlesh, the IFJ commented ‘two murders in nearly two weeks illustrate the dangerous conditions that journalists in India are facing’.  The global media forum called on Indian authorities to immediately and thoroughly investigate these murders and bring those responsible to justice.

In a recent statement, the IFJ disclosed that 93 journalists were killed last year around the world, where India contributed 6 victims to the list. Iraq witnessed the highest number of journo-killings (15), followed by Afghanistan (13), Mexico (11), Yemen (8), Guatemala, Syria, India (all 6), Pakistan (5) etc., added the forum representing over 6,00,000 journalists in 140 countries.

India’s tiny neighbor Maldives drew the attention of international media this year with the sensational murder of a prominent journalist and human rights defender. Yameen Rasheed, 29, who remained an outspoken critic of corruption & human rights violations in the island nation, was stabbed to death by miscreants on April 23 in the capital Malé and thus putting the small country in the list of risky nations with growing intolerance toward free information flow.

Relatively peaceful Myanmar (also known as Burma or Brahmadesh) reported one murder in the first half of 2017. Wai Yan Heinn, 27, a Rangoon based weekly editor was killed on April 16. He reportedly published a number of articles narrating the corruption of former military personnel turned businessmen. Besides local media units, the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the Myanmar authorities to identify and bring the culprits to justice at the earliest. Mentioning about the case of Soe Moe Tun, who was killed on 13 December 2016 allegedly for reporting on illegal loggings, the Paris based rights body expressed resentments that the concerned investigation had gone slow. Benjamin Ismaïl, the former head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, recently commented that Soe’s family was still waiting for justice, but in vain.

Pakistan lost two professional journalists and a media student to assailants in the last six months. Muhammad Jan who was working for an Urdu newspaper in Baluchistan province, faced bullets from miscreants on January 12 and died accordingly. Later a student of journalism Mashal Khan was killed by a mob of angry students in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on April 22 over the alleged blasphemy charge against him. Television reporter Abdul Razzaque was gunned down by miscreants on May 17 in Punjab province. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Pakistani authorities to investigate all the killings related to media persons and book the culprits urgently.

The New York based media rights body also expressed concern over the situation in Afghanistan, where four media workers namely Mohamad Amir Khan, Zinullah Khan, Abdul Latif and Ghani were killed in a suicide attack on May 17 at Jalalabad locality. Later two more media persons namely Mohammed Nazir and Aziz Navin died in a Kabul blast on May 31.

Infamous for many atheist bloggers’ killings, Bangladesh witnessed the murder of one rural reporter at Sirajganj locality.  Abdul Hakim Shimul, who used to work for Dainik Samakal, was shot dead on February 2, when he was covering the clashes between two factions of the ruling party (Awami League). Bangladesh Manobadhikaar Sangbadik Forum strongly condemned the assassination, which was first in 2017.

India’s other neighbors including Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tibet (under China), etc. have not reported any incident of journo-killings in the last six months. In contrast, the land of Mahatma-Buddha has emerged as one of the worst places for working journalists, where they are attacked deliberately and justices were rarely delivered to their bereaved families. The country lost five journalists to assailants in 2015, which was preceded by two cases in 2014. However 2013 reported as many as 11 journalists’ murders, as three northeastern media employees (Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh from Tripura) also fell victim to the perpetrators.

“The trend in India is not satisfactory for the working journalists as we are witnessing the increased number of incidents relating to physical assaults on journalists across the country. We reiterate our old demand for a comprehensive national action plan to safeguard the scribes in India and ensure justice to the victims,” said JFA president Rupam Barua posing the question, how many more journalists have to die to convince the Union government in New Delhi to formulate a protection law for media persons on duty.

(The writer is a northeast India based journalist and Secretary, Guwahati Press Club.)

(Published on 10th July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 28)