As the year 2016 roles on for the final hours, India stands as one of the worst places for working journalists similar to the conflict-ridden nations like Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Mexico, Libya, Afghanistan etc. The largest democracy in the globe witnessed the murder of six journalists till the middle of December, where as the populous country lost five journalists to assailants last year. As nobody has been convicted in most of the journo-murder cases, the Indian media fraternity raised voices for a national action plan to ensure security & justice to the media persons.
The first incident of journalist murder this year took place in Utta Pradesh, where a young scribe named Tarun Mishra was shot dead on 13 February 2016 at Gosaiganj locality in Sultanpur district. Mishra (32) used to work for a Hindi daily (Jansandesh Times) and he was understandably targeted for highlighting the illegal soil mining activities in his district. Three motorcycle riding miscreants shot at him near to his residential locality in Ambedkar Nagar and he succumbed to his severe injuries in the hospital.
The second casualty was reported from Jharkhand, where a television news channel reporter was killed by the local goons. Two unidentified people targeted Indradev Yadav (also known as Akhilesh Pratap Singh) at Dewaria locality of Chatra district on 12 May. Yadav (35), who used to work for Taaza News, faced the bullets in front of the village Panchayat office and died on his way to the hospital.
The third case of journalist murder came to light from Bihar within 24 hours. Unidentified gunmen shot at Rajdeo Ranjan at Siwan railway station locality on 13 May. Employed and working for a national Hindi newspaper (Hindustan), Ranjan, 45, died in the hospital. The brave journalist reportedly earned enmity with local political goons for his reporting against their misdeeds.
Both the incidents created instant wave of protests in Ranchi as well as in Patna and then it spread to other parts of the country. Various local, national and international media (rights) bodies including the members of prestigious press clubs based in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Guwahati etc demonstrated their angers against the vicious attacks on scribes and demanded distinctive punishment to each & every single perpetrator of the crimes.
Shashi Shekhar, the chief editor of Hindustan narrated in his column that ‘journalism today is amongst the most dangerous professions in the world', but even though people get attracted to it, as the society needs truth and journalism is the most powerful medium to bring out that truth. We have made sacrifices and we will continue to do so, till it is necessary…The first target of this struggle will be to bring the killers of Rajdeo Ranjan to book under the law, added the column.
Another tragic incident came to light lately from Punjab, where a brave lady scribe named Anshita Bawa died under a mysterious situation. Anshita on 22 April drove her vehicle to meet one of he friends, but she could not reach the location, rather her body was found floating in a canal at Bool locality of Sudhar areas. Initially it was understood as an accident or a suicide case, but the post-mortem result narrated a different story. The autopsy report revealed that Anshita, 22, was subjected to severe injuries before he death. She suffered nearly nine injuries with a fatal one on her head. Under pressure from her family members, the local police registered an FIR terming it a case of murder.
The focus then shifted to relatively peaceful State of Gujarat, where a senior journalist was stabbed to death in his office on the night of 22 August. Kishore Dave, 53, was attacked by miscreants when he was working in Junagadh office of Gujarati newspaper 'Jai Hind' and died on the spot. There was no security camera in the one-room office, where an office assistant later found Dave's blood-soaked body lying on the floor.
Soon the horror returned to Bihar as another journalist fall prey to goons on 12 November. Dharmendra Kumar Singh, who used to work fo Hindi daily ‘Dainik Bhaskar' was targeted when the 38 years old scribe relaxed at a tea stall outside his residence during his morning walk at Amra Talaab locality Rohtas district.
Three motor cycle-borne assailants fired at him indiscriminately and succeeded in fleeing from the location. Singh was brought to the Sasaram hospital, but he succumbed to injuries on the way. Local journalists suspect that the stone-crusher mafia was involved in the murder as Singh exposed their illegal activities through recent pieces of reporting.
The killings angered the media fraternity in India and abroad. Amidst protests by local journalist forums, three international media rights bodies namely the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ, New York), the Reporters Sans/Without Borders (RSF, Paris) and the International Press Institute (IPI, Vienna) strongly condemned the incidents and called for authentic investigations into the murders. Those organizations also expressed concerns that India was slowly slipping down into a worst place for working journalists in media freedom parameters.
Facing the heat of condemnations, the Nitish Kumar led government of Bihar recommended for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the murder of Rajdeo Ranjan. The CBI registered the case unde sections 302 (murder), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) etc of the Indian Penal Code and started investigations. There are some progresses in police investigations over some fresh journo-murde cases, but none has got convicted till date.
Across the globe, over 40 journalists were killed this year, where Syria tops the list with 14 journo-casualties. It is flowed by Yemen (6), Iraq (6), Libya (3), Turkey (2), Mexico (2), Brazil (1), Ukraine (1) etc. Besides Pakistan and Afghanistan, no neighboring countries of India including Nepal, Tibet (China), Bhutan, Myanmar, Maldives, Sri Lanka etc reported the killing journalists in 2016. India's troubled neighbor Pakistan lost three journalists (Mehmood Khan from Dawn News, Shehzad Ahmed from Aaj News and Muhammad Uma from Daily Dera News) to assailants, where as Afghanistan reported the killings of Nematullah Zahir (Ariana News), David Gilkey (National Public Radio), Zabihullah Tamanna (National Public Radio), Yaqoub Sharafat (Radio Television Afghanistan) and Mohammad Zubair Khaksa (Nangarhar Radio & Television).
Myanmar lost one journalist this year. The Sagaing region based scribe named Soe Moe Tun was reportedly targeted by the illegal logging mafia in northwest part of the country. The NayPieTaw also imprisoned five journalists namely Lu Maw Naing of Unity (since January 2014), Aung Thura of Unity (February 2014), Sithu Soe of Unity (February 2014), Yarzar Oo of Unity (February 2014) and Tint San of Unity (February 2014).
Though Bangladesh has not reported any casualty of mainstream journalists, it lost one Netizen (Samad Nazijmuddin of Ganajagaran Mancha on 6 April) to criminals. The Muslim dominated country howeve imprisoned five scribes namely Rahman Mahmudur of Amar Desh (since April 2013), Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury of Weekly Blitz (January 2014), Salam Abdus of Ekushey TV (January 2015), Kanak Sarwar of Ekushey TV (March 2015) and Rimon Rahman of Amader Rajshahi (September 2015).
China was also devoid of any journo-murder this year, but the Communist regime in Beijing has imprisoned as more as 49 scribes and 81 Netizens. Similarly, Thailand also witnessed no casualty of scribes, but it has jailed two scribes namely Somyot Prueksakasemsuk of Voice of Taksin (since April 2011) and Nut Rungwon/Somsak Pakdeedech of Thai E-News (May 2014).
According to the RSF's year ending worldwide round-up, altogether 348 journalists are currently detained in various parts of globe. The newly emerged disturbed nation Turkey has increased the number of detained/arrested scribe & media-contributors over 100 this year. "Aside from Turkey, the three other biggest jailers of journalists are China, Iran and Egypt. They alone account for more than two thirds of the world's detained journalists," said a RSF statement adding that the persecution of journalists around the world is growing at a shocking rate.
Meanwhile, a total of 52 journalists are currently held hostage. This year, all of them are in conflict zones in the Middle East. Unsurprisingly, Syria and Iraq are among the most dangerous countries, with Islamic State alone holding 21 of these hostages, revealed the statement.
It may be noted that India lost five journalists namely Jagendra Singh (Uttar Pradesh), Sandeep Kothari (Madhya Pradesh), Raghavendra Dube (Maharashtra), Hemant Yadav (Uttar Pradesh) and Mithilesh Pandey (Bihar) to assailants last year. Moreover, the concerned authority imprisoned four freelance journalists namely Somaru Nag (since July 2015), Santosh Yadav (September 2015), Surinder Singh (October 2015) and Baltej Pannu (November 2015).
The year 2014 witnessed the murder of only two scribes (MVN Shanka from Andhra Pradesh and Tarun Kumar Acharya from Odisha) in India. However the country lost 11 journalists to the perpetrators in 2013 including three media employees (Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh of Tripura) from northeast India. Similarly the yea 2012 recoded the killings of five journalists including one from Assam (Raihanul Nayum) and another from Manipur (Dwijamani Nanao Singh). Northeastern States, which previously recorded the murder of Anil Mazumdar (in Guwahati, 2009) and Jagajit Saikia (in Kokrajhar, 2008), remained relatively peaceful for the media persons in the last fou years. A worst record holder of over 30 journalists' murders in the last 25 years, the region has however continued witnessing the assaults on media personalities.
"How many scribes have to face physical assaults and even to sacrifice their lives to compel the Union government in New Delhi to launch a national action plan for safeguarding the interest of media persons in our country," asked Rupam Barua of Journalists' Forum Assam (JFA). While expressing concern over the development, the JFA leader added that the authority must provide a sense of security to the media fraternity so that they can practice critical journalism without fea and trepidation.
The author is a northeast India based journalist and Secretary of Guwahati Press Club.