India’s improved journo-murder index in 2019

Taj Mahal - India

As the year 2019 is approaching the finish line, India sets to improve its journo-murder index with only two casualties this year. The world witnesses murders of nearly 50 scribes for duties related to journalism till date, India’s share has also gone down considerably from six to two. Moreover, its neighbors (except Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh) namely Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Tibet (under China), and Bhutan have not reported any incident of scribe’s murder during the year.

While Mexico, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, etc top the list of journo-killings, Pakistan and Afghanistan are ahead of everyone in South Asia as both the countries have lost five journalists each to assailants in 2019. Conflict-riddled Pakistan reported the murders of Zafar Abbas, Mirza Waseem Baig, Muhammad Bilal Khan, Ali Sher Rajpar, and Malik Amanullah Khan for journalistic activities. Afghanistan lost Javid Noori, Nader Shah Sahebzadeh, Sultan Mohammad Khairkhah, Shafiq Aria, and Rahimullah Rahmani to assailants. Bangladesh witnessed the suspected murder of online journalist Ihsan Ibn Reza Fagun.

India as a whole witnessed the killings of nine journalists in 2019, but only two incidents of murders are understood as being related to journalism-related causes. Andhra Pradesh based journalist K Satyanarayana and Madhya Pradesh based journalist Chakresh Jain faced the fate because of their performances as working journalists. However, seven other cases are yet to be confirmed that they were targeted for media-related activities.

Committed reporter Satyanarayana, who worked for Telugu daily ‘Andhra Jyothy’, was hacked to death by miscreants at Annavaram village of East Godavari district on the night of 15 October. Local scribes reported that Satyanarayana was targeted on an earlier occasion too and he informed it to the local police. Jain, a freelance journalist died of serious burn injuries on 19 June as he was involved in a quarrel with the assailant at Shahgarh locality.

Others who were killed this year include Jobanpreet Singh (Punjab’s online journalist was killed in police firings on 19 December), Vijay Gupta (Kanpur-based scribe shot dead by close relatives on 29 October), Radheyshyam Sharma (Kushinagar-based journalist murdered by his neighbors on 10 October), Ashish Dhiman (Saharanpur-based photojournalist shot dead along with his brother by neighbors on 18 August), Anand Narayan (news channel contributor of Mumbai murdered by miscreants on 4 June), Nityanand Pandey (magazine editor in Thane killed by an employee on 17 March).

Earlier, Kerala-based journalist K Muhammed Basheer lost his life as a running vehicle, driven by a senior government officer, mowed down him on 3 August. Bihar’s scribe Pradeep Mandal was targeted by miscreants on 28 July, but he survived luckily. He contributed a number of news items against the local liquor mafia for Dainik Jagaran and invited enmities from the goons. Meanwhile, a Guwahati based scribe named Naresh Mitra died on 9 December after sustaining head injuries in a mysterious accident inside the city.

India lost six journalists (Navin Nischal, Vijay Singh, Sandeep Sharma, Syed Shujaat Bukhari, Achyuta N Sahu, and Chandan Tiwari) to assailants in 2018, whereas the trouble-torn northeastern region of the country has once again evaded murder of any journalist in two consecutive years. Often described as a disturbed zone because of relentless violence engineered by armed militants, the region (except Tripura) has avoided any incident of journalist’s murder for many years.

Tripura reported the murder of five media persons in 2013 and 2017, whereas Assam and Manipur witnessed the last killing of media persons (Dwijamani Nanao Singh from Imphal and Raihanul Nayum from Dhubri) in 2012. Till the recent time, the region was a breeding ground for insurgents fighting against New Delhi with demands for self-rule to sovereignty. Both the States were once severely affected by the militancy, where over 30 separatist armed outfits went on with disruptive activities including extortion, kidnapping, and killings.

For Indian working journalists, the year 2017 is recognized as the deadliest year as 12 scribes (Hari Prakash, Brajesh Kumar Singh, Shyam Sharma, Kamlesh Jain, Surender Singh Rana, Gauri Lankesh, Shantanu Bhowmik, KJ Singh, Rajesh Mishra, Sudip Datta Bhaumik, Naveen Gupta and Rajesh Sheoran) were either murdered or killed in suspicious situations. Among the casualties, Tripura reported two incidents of journo-murder (Shantanu and Sudip Datta).

In 2016, India witnessed the targeted killings of six scribes, whereas the previous year the country lost five journalists to assailants. A satisfactory statistics on the journo-murder index was observed in 2014 when the country reported only two incidents of journo-murders. But year 2013 emerged a dangerous year for scribes with 11 casualties including three media employees (Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury, and Balaram Ghosh) from Tripura.

Various national and international media rights bodies including Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), etc have come out with separate reports that sizable number of journalists were murdered in the world during 2019, which is the lowest death toll in 15 years. Last year the casualties were 95. Those organizations continue raising voices for due probes and punishments to the culprits.

While defining journalists as individuals who cover news or comment on public affairs in print, radio, television, online outlets, etc, those organizations maintained that incidents of abuse, assault-attacks, and imprisonment of scribes by government forces, political goons, anti-social elements, etc continue everywhere as over 350 journalists were imprisoned in 2019, where China, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Vietnam, etc have taken the lead.