By va Thakuria
Indian subcontinent continues to remain a dangerous place for scribes to pursue critical jourlism. As the year 2016 ends with the cumulative statistics of 16 jourlist-murder incidents in India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, the broader region emerges as an unsafe place for mediapersons — similar to Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya etc, where jourlists are being deliberately attacked.
The largest democracy in the globe witnessed the murder of six jourlists in 2016, whereas its immediate neighbors including Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet (Chi), Maldives and Sri Lanka had not reported any incident of jourlist-murders in that period. Of course, Afghanistan (casualty 5), Pakistan (3), Bangladesh (1) and Myanmar (1) lost brave scribes to assailants in the year.
According to the New York based Committee to Protect Jourlists (CPJ), over 70 professiol and non-professiol jourlists were killed worldwide in connection with their profession in 2016. Syria, like the previous years, topped the list with 14 jourlist-casualties, followed by Yemen (6), Iraq (6), Libya (3), Somalia (3), Turkey (2), Mexico (2) and others.
India’s troubled neighbor Pakistan lost Mehmood Khan (Dawn News), Shehzad Ahmed (Aaj News) and Muhammad Umar (Daily Dera News) to assailants in 2016, but Afghanistan lost more scribes (Nematullah Zahir from Aria News, David Gilkey from tiol Public Radio, Zabihullah Taman from tiol Public Radio, Yaqoub Sharafat from Radio Television Afghanistan and Mohammad Zubair Khaksar from ngarhar Radio & Television) in that period.
Bangladesh reported the killing of one editor (Xulhaz Mann, who edited a lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) community magazine med Roopbaan) and a netizen (Samad zijmuddin of Gajagaran Mancha) to crimils. The Muslim domited country also imprisoned Rahman Mahmudur of Amar Desh (since April 2013), Salah Uddin Shoaib
Choudhury of Weekly Blitz (January 2014), Salam Abdus of Ekushey TV (January 2015), Kak Sarwar of Ekushey TV (March 2015) and Rimon Rahman of Amader Rajshahi (September 2015).
Myanmar, which has been changing from a military regime to mult-party democracy, also lost one jourlist to assailants in 2016. The Sagaing region based scribe med Soe Moe Tun, who worked for Daily Eleven newspaper was targeted by the illegal logging mafia. The yPieTaw based regime has also imprisoned few jourlists mely Lu Maw ing of Unity (since January 2014), Aung Thura of Unity (February 2014), Sithu Soe of Unity (February 2014), Yarzar Oo ofUnity (February 2014) and Tint San of Unity (February 2014).
Tibet (as well Chi) was also devoid of any jourlist-murder incident in 2016, but the Communist regime in Beijing imprisoned as many as 49 scribes and 81 netizens. Similarly, Thailand witnessed no casualty of scribes, but the Bangkok-based government jailed two scribes mely Somyot Prueksakasemsuk of Voice of Taksin (since April 2011) and Nut Rungwon/Somsak Pakdeedech of Thai E-News (May 2014).
According to the year ending round-up by the Paris based Reporters Sans/Without Borders (RSF), altogether 348 jourlists are currently detained in various parts of the world. The newly emerged disturbed tion Turkey increased the number of detained/arrested scribe & media-contributors up to 100 in the year.
“Aside from Turkey, the three other biggest jailers of jourlists are Chi, Iran and Egypt. They alone account for more than two-thirds of the world’s detained jourlists,” said a RSF statement, adding that the persecution of jourlists around the world is growing at a shocking rate.
Meanwhile, a total of 52 jourlists are currently being 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 the Islamic State alone holding 21 of these hostages, asserted the statement.
India’s first incident of jourlist murder in 2016 was reported from Uttar Pradesh, where a young scribe med Tarun Mishra was shot dead on 13 February at Gosaiganj locality in Sultanpur district. Mishra (32) used to work for a Hindi daily (Jansandesh Times) and he was said to have been targeted for highlighting the illegal soil mining activities in his district. Three motorcycle riding miscreants shot at him near his residential locality in Ambedkar gar. Mishra succumbed to his severe injuries in hospital.
The second incident took place in Chatra of Jharkhand, where a television news channel reporter was killed by local goons. Two unidentified persons 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 hospital.
The third case of jourlist murder came to light from Bihar within 24 hours. Unidentified gunmen shot at Rajdeo Ranjan at Siwan railway station locality on 13 May. Working for a tiol Hindi newspaper med Hindustan, Ranjan (45) died in hospital. The brave jourlist reportedly incurred 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 Pat, and then spread to other parts of the country. Various local, tiol and intertiol media (rights) bodies including the members of prestigious press clubs based in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Guwahati etc demonstrated against the vicious attacks on scribes and demanded exemplary punishment to each and every single perpetrator of the crimes.
Shashi Shekhar, the chief editor of Hindustan rrated in his column that ‘jourlism today is amongst the most dangerous professions in the world’, even though people get attracted to it as society needs truth, and jourlism 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 has come to light lately from Punjab, where a brave lady scribe med Anshita Bawa died under mysterious circumstances. Anshita on 22 April drove her vehicle to meet one of her friends, but could not reach the location; rather her body was found floating in a cal at Bool locality of Sudhar areas.
Initially it was believed to have been an accident or a suicide case, but the post-mortem result rrated a different story. The autopsy report revealed that Anshita (22) was subjected to severe injuries before 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 jourlist 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 Jugadh 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.
The horror returned again to Bihar as another jourlist fell prey to goons on 12 November. Dharmendra Kumar Singh, who used to work for 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 in Rohtas district. Three motor cycle-borne assailants fired at him indiscrimitely and succeeded in fleeing from the location. Singh was brought to Sasaram hospital, but succumbed to injuries on the way. Local jourlists suspect that the stone-crusher mafia was involved in the murder as Singh had exposed their illegal activities through recent pieces of reporting.
The killings understandably angered the media fraternity in India and abroad. Amidst protests by local jourlist forums, many intertiol media rights bodies including the CPJ, RSF, Press Emblem Campaign (PEC, Geneva) and Intertiol Press Institute (IPI, Vien) etc strongly condemned the incidents and called for authentic investigations into the murders. Those organizations also expressed concerns that India is slowly slipping down into a dangerous place for working jourlists in media freedom parameters.
Facing the heat of condemtions, the Nitish Kumar-led government in Pat recommended a CBI probe into the murder of Rajdeo Ranjan. After registering the case under sections 302 (murder), 120-B (crimil conspiracy) etc of Indian Pel Code, the CBI had recently filed its first charge-sheet in the case. There are some progresses in police arrest and investigations over many jourlist-murder cases across the country, but none has been punished till date.
In 2015, India lost Jagendra Singh (Uttar Pradesh), Sandeep Kothari (Madhya Pradesh), Raghavendra Dube (Maharashtra), Hemant Yadav (Uttar Pradesh) and Mithilesh Pandey (Bihar) to assailants. Moreover, concerned authorities jailed four freelance jourlists mely Somaru g (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 Shankar from Andhra Pradesh and Tarun Kumar Acharya from Odisha), but the country lost 11 jourlists including three Northeastern media employees (Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh from
Tripura) to perpetrators in the previous year.
The Northeastern states, which previously witnessed the killing of over 30 jourlists to perpetrators in the last 25 years, however remained safe for scribes in the last three consecutive years. The alieted region has however continued witnessing numerous incidents of threats & assaults on media-persons. Assam alone has lost 15 newsmen to armed militants in the last three decades, but none has been convicted till date.
(The author is a senior jourlist based in the Northeast, and Secretary, Guwahati Press Club)