Dozens of Indian media professionals marched by candlelight in Delhi on Monday to protest the killing of two journalists in eastern India last week.
“There is a growing trend in India, that if a journalist writes something that makes some people uncomfortable, he or she is immediately labeled a ‘presstitute.’ Or worse, they are jailed or killed,” Mahendra Ved, president of the Commonwealth Journalists Association, which participated in the protest, told BenarNews.
“There is growing intolerance toward what journalists want to write and a lot of pressures felt if one has to publish the truth,” he added.
On Friday two unidentified men on a motorcycle gunned down Rajdeo Ranjan, bureau chief of leading Hindi-language daily Hindustan, in the Siwan district of Bihar state.
A day earlier, Taza TV news channel reporter Akhilesh Pratap Singh was slain in a similar fashion in the neighboring Jharkhand state.
Police have arrested three people in connection with Ranjan’s killing, and two suspects have been taken into custody for their alleged involvement in Singh’s death. However, police confirmed that the two incidents were unrelated.
The killings are the latest in a spate of incidents in which Indian journalists have been targeted for doing their jobs in the world’s most populous democracy.
Last month, Paris-based media watchdog Reporters without Borders ranked India, the world’s most populous democracy, 133rd of 180 countries on its 2016 World Press Freedom Index.
“The pressure felt by journalists working in smaller cities is far more, because bigger cities like Delhi or Mumbai offer you more protection purely on the basis of numbers as well as the large number of press associations and trade unions that can come to the aid of a journalist,” Press Club of India President Rahul Jalali told BenarNews.
Shot five times
Police in Bihar said Ranjan may have been killed because of his recent reporting on criminal activities in Siwan.
“We believe this may be a professional hit owing to the manner in which it was conducted,” Siwan district police chief Saurabh Sah told BenarNews. “Provisionally, we can say that he may have been killed because of his recent articles exposing criminal activities and incidents of corruption in the district.”
Sah said three men had been arrested as suspects, but he declined to divulge details of those held in custody.
Ranjan was shot five times at close range in the head and neck area, Sah said.
“It seems to be a well-planned hit. It was conducted in a very crowded area during peak hours. A silencer was attached to the weapon to suppress the sound of the gun shots,” he added.
Without naming anyone, Ranjan’s family hinted at a “political link” behind his death.
“The police and administration are aware who killed my son. It is well known due to the topics which my son used to cover. Everybody knows the people sitting high up in the political hierarchy [are] responsible for killing my son,” Ranjan’s father, R.K. Choudhury, told BenarNews.
Ranjan’s family has demanded an independent probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s premier internal investigating agency.
We do not have faith in the local authorities as they are easily influenced,” he said.
The CBI has been called to probe Ranjan’s killing, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said Monday.
“I am worried about this. A journalist has to write or speak [the truth]. If there is an attack on a journalist, it is an attack on me, and that’s how I am looking at the case,” Kumar said in a statement.
Meanwhile in Jharkhand, relatives, friends and colleagues of Akhilesh Pratap Singh staged a protest by blocking traffic in the state’s Chatra district, where he was shot dead.
“We have arrested two people as part of our investigation into the murder of the journalist,” Chatra Superintendent of Police Anjani Jha was quoted as telling the Indo-Asian News Service.
Singh is the fourth journalist to be killed since the creation of Jharkhand in November 2000, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
None of the previous three killings have been solved.
U.P. Singh, a senior police official in Chatra district, told BenarNews that there were no eyewitnesses to Singh’s killing.
“We suspect that he was attacked by gunmen on a motorcycle,” he said, adding that the interrogation of the two suspects was on-going.
India’s ruling Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been blamed for allegedly curbing free speech since it came to power in May 2014, was quick to deplore the two killings.
Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, who is Minister for Information and Broadcasting, said on Twitter: “I strongly condemn murder of journalists Rajdeo Ranjan in Siwan & Akhilesh Pratap Singh in Chatra district.
“Independent investigation may be instituted & guilty be punished.”