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7 journalists killed in 18 months, ‘alarmed’ global media watchdog warns India

Reporters without Borders has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to take “urgent action”. The ‘Incident Report’ released by it about the ‘deterioration of press freedom in India’ is the first the organisation has prepared for any country.

SNS | New Delhi |

With seven Indian journalists murdered in the last 18 months, media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) has expressed an “alarm” about the journalist killings in the country.

“In 2017, the deaths of at least three journalists killed in connection with their work were recorded, and a fourth case is still under investigation. In 2018, four journalists were killed in the country in the first six months,” the RSF has said in its “Incident Report” released on 4 July.

The report also mentions a sharp rise in “online abuse and harassment”.

“In addition, there has been a sharp increase in online abuse and harassment, and in the self-censorship which looms over the environment in which journalists carry out their work in ‘the world’s largest democracy’,” says RSF.

READ | Press freedom down, India slips to 138th spot: Report

Reporters without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi informing him of this Incident Report and urging him to take “urgent action”.

In its letter sent on July 3, the RSF notes that “in the first six months of 2018, at least as many reporters were killed as for the whole of 2017, while hate speech directed toward journalists has increased massively, causing serious concern for their safety”.

The RSF report — an ‘alarm’ about the “deterioration of press freedom in India” — is the first the organisation has prepared for any country.

The Incident Report, released in the wake of an “increase in breaches of press freedom in India” in the past six months, examines the country’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index, a global benchmark for media freedom.

According to the RSF, an Incident Report is issued “when events are observed that could affect a country’s ranking based on one or more of the indicators that are used in the evaluation for the World Press Freedom Index”.

The Reporters without Borders comes out with an annual World Press Freedom Index and India is currently placed at 138th position in the list of 180 countries — 2 spots down from its 2017 ranking.

The report released on 4 July against journalist killings warned that India risked falling further down on the index.

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The latest journalist to be murdered in India was Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of English daily The Rising Kashmir. He was gunned down outside the paper’s office in Srinagar on June 14. The renowned journalist was the fourth person from this profession to have been killed this year.

On March 26, Sandeep Sharma, who had been investigating illegal sand mining, was killed in Madhya Pradesh. He was run over by a garbage truck.

Navin Nischal and Vijay Singh, subeditors with Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar, were killed just the day before. Both were run over by an SUV in Bihar on March 25.

The Incident Report on journalist killings also mentions scribes who were attacked this year. On June 22, Satyendra Gangwar was shot and wounded in Uttar Pradesh, near the Nepal border, allegedly by members of the mining mafia which he had been investigating. He had been assaulted in March too.

On June 18, two men tried to slit the throat of Suman Debnath, who was investigating theft of petroleum in Tripura. On April 17, in Meghalaya, Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim’s home was attacked with a kerosene bomb.

The RSF also spoke of journalists Rana Ayyub and Ravish Kumar as it referred to “online hate campaigns” and harassment by “armies of trolls”.

More than 40 Indian journalists have been killed since 1992, according to the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

The RSF has sought better and safe working environment for journalists and make some recommendations to the government in this regard.

It says there should be a system in place that ensures safety of journalists at risk and provide proper protection for those who say they have been threatened.

The Reporters without Borders report against journalist killings in India also demands “swift and independent investigation” into cases where journalists have been murdered or attacked to “put an end to the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators and instigators of such crimes”.