By Nava Thakuria*
Many may refer India’s far-eastern region as a troubled territories of the vast country that often generates violence, but lately the region has succeeded maintaining its satisfactory track record with no journo-killing in three and half years. Even though many incidents of misbehave, threatening and assaults to scribes continue in the Northeastern region, it has not reported murder of any media persons since January 2014.
Contrary to it, Central Indian states have reported the killing of over 20 working journalists since 2014, inviting a bad name for the largest democracy in the globe. As the year 2017 completes half of its journey, India stands at an awkward position in its journo-murder index, as four professional journalists have been killed in last six months.
The year started with sad news as the dead body of a Jharkhand based scribe was recovered on Hazaribag locality in the first week itself. Hari Prakash, 31, whose body was found on 2 January 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 3 January 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 15 May. 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 31 May. 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.
This year till date, India’s troubled neighbour Pakistan lost three professional journalists and a media student to assailants. Muhammad Jan, who was working for an Urdu newspaper in Baluchistan province, faced bullets from miscreants on January 12 and died later.
A student of journalism named Mashal Khan was killed by a mob of angry mob in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on 22 April over the alleged blasphemy charge against him. Television reporter Abdul Razzaque was gunned down by miscreants on May 17 in Punjab province. Lately Bakshish Ellahi of television news channel was shot dead by unknown gunmen on 11 June in Peshawar. 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 17 May at Jalalabad locality. Later two more media persons namely Mohammed Nazir and Aziz Navin died in a Kabul blast on 31 May.
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 2 February, 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.
Tiny 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 23 April 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. The reason behind the attack on the scribe was yet to be confirmed for his journalistic works. 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 December 13, 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 vein.
Lately three Myanmar journalists namely Lawi Weng (The Irrawaddy), Aye Naing and Pyae Bone Naing (Democratic Voice of Burma) arrested by the Burmese Army on 26 June from Shan State and put inside Hsipaw prison. Amnesty International has called the authority to ‘immediately and unconditionally’ release the journalists so that they can resume their journalistic works.
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 Buddha- Mahatma 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.
Comprising of eight States, India’s Northeast lost over 30 journalists to perpetrators in the last three decades, where the last one reported in 2013 from Tripura. The killing of Sujit Bhattacharya (proof reader), Ranjit Chowdhury (manager) and Balaram Ghosh (driver) at the premises of Dainik Ganadoot in Agartala broke as sensational news, as the Bangladesh bordering State had no recent record of journo-murders.
After a lot of hue and cry, the Tripura police arrested Sushil Choudhury, the Dainik Ganadoot proprietor and editor. He was also convicted by the west Tripura district and session court for the triple murders. But soon Choudhury received the respite from the higher court and the Tripura government forwarded an appeal to the Supreme Court against his acquittal in the sensational case.
Manipur and Assam, where over 30 separatist armed militant outfits are still active, witnessed the murder of Dwijamani Nanao Singh at Imphal and Raihanul Nayum at Dhubri in 2012. Earlier an Assamese editor Anil Mazumdar was killed in 2009 at the heart of Guwahati city. The previous year reported the assassinations of Konsam Rishikanta in Imphal and Jagajit Saikia in Kokrajhar. Assam alone has lost 15 newsmen to armed militants since 1991, but shockingly none has been convicted even today.
*Senior journalist based in Guwahati