As the year 2019 is approaching the finish line, India appears to improve its journo-murder index with only two casualties and the northeastern region (NE) with none this year. The world witnesses murders of nearly 50 scribes for journalistic works and India’s share has also gone lower considerably from six to two. On the other hand, NE has evaded any incident of journalist’s killing for the second consecutive year. Amazingly, all the neighbouring nations to the region (except Bangladesh) avoided scribe’s murder during the year.
Often described as a disturbed zone because of relentless violence engineered by armed separatist militants, NE (except Tripura) has avoided journo-murder incidents 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. In contrast, central Indian States continue pouring news related to the murder of journalists.
Till the recent time, the region with a population of over 60 million was a breeding ground for insurgents fighting against New Delhi with demands ranging from self-rule to sovereignty. Surrounded by Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet (presently occupied by China), Myanmar, and Bangladesh, the region supports hundreds of newspapers, published in various languages like English, Assamese, Hindi, Bengali, Mizo, Bodo, Meitei, Karbi, Khasi etc and few news channels and portals to cater the need of dedicated audiences.
For Indian working journalists, the year 2017 can be identified as a 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).
Massive protests erupted across the country against the killings of journalists, more precisely the murder of Ms Gauri in Bangaluru. The then Communist chief minister of Tripura, Manik Sarkar also personally joined in a protest rally at Agartala demanding justice over her murder. But pathetic news was waiting for him as a young reporter from his State (Shantanu Bhowmik) fall prey to a mob violence on 20 September. Later one more journalist’s murder (Sudip Datta Bhaumik on 21 November) by a policeman put Sarkar in an awkward position.
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 in 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 neighbours on 10 October), Ashish Dhiman (Saharanpur-based photojournalist shot dead along with his brother by neighbours 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.
While Mexico, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, etc tops the list of journo-murders, our neighbours Pakistan and Afghanistan remain ahead of everyone in South Asia as both the countries witnessed the murder of five journalists each in 2019. Conflict-riddled Pakistan reported the killing of Zafar Abbas, Mirza Waseem Baig, Muhammad Bilal Khan, Ali Sher Rajpar, and Malik Amanullah Khan for journalistic activities. Afghanistan lost Jabid Noori, Nader Shah Sahebzadeh, Sultan Mohammad Khairkhah, Shafiq Aria, and Rahimullah Rahmani to assailants.
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. Media rights organizations believe that the decline in journo-murders may be attributed to some stabilities in various conflict zones.
Defining journalists as individuals who cover news or comment on public affairs in print, radio, television, online outlets etc, those organizations highlighted the last year’s toll of 95 casualties. They also stated that more scribes are seemingly self-censoring for fear of retaliations over their works, where the mainstream journalists have shown more restraints if not the online contributors.
They however continue demanding due probes and punishments to the culprits. Also 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 maintained the lead.
The author NJ Thakuria is a media activist based in northeast India.