Tibet-bordering Indian region turns safer for journalists

Nava Thakuria

Nava Thakuria

By Nava Thakuria

GUWAHATI, India, 7 June 2017

Often receiving media headlines for relentless violence and troubles, northeast Indian provinces have avoided journalist-murder incidents in the last three-and half consecutive years. Nonetheless, cases of misbehaviour, assault, and threats to media persons continue in the alienated region. Contrary to this, India lost around 20 working journalists to assailants in this period, earning a bad name in the international arena.

The populous country stands at an awkward position over the journo-murder index, as it has witnessed the murder of four professional journalists in the last six months. Shockingly, the largest democracy in the globe has also earned a terrible name for not bringing the culprits to justice. This prompts the Indian media fraternity to continue its old demand for a special protection law for the journalists on duty.

The year started with sad news in the first week itself, as the dead body of a Jharkhand-based scribe was recovered in the Hazaribag locality. Hari Prakash, 31, whose body was found on 2 January by a roadside, had been missing for some days. The family members of Hari, who was a law graduate and used to work for a Hindi daily, alleged that he was kidnapped by miscreants and finally murdered.

Another piece of bad news was waiting for the media families as a Bihar-based journalist was shot dead at Samastipur locality on 3 January by some unidentified goons. Brajesh Kumar Singh, 28, received serious injuries on his head and died on the spot. It was the third assassination of journalists in Bihar within a year after Rajdeo Ranjan and Dharmendra Kumar Singh were killed last year.

The third and fourth incidents involving the murder of working journalists were reported from Madhya Pradesh. Shyam Sharma, 40, who was engaged with a local evening newspaper, was stabbed to death by miscreants at Anshul locality of Indore on 15 May. Shyam received multiple injuries and died on the spot. Meanwhile, the local police have arrested two individuals suspecting their primary role in the murder case.

In another incident, Kamlesh Jain, 42, was shot dead in his office at Pipliyamandi locality of Mandsaur on the evening of 31 May. Kamlesh was rushed to a nearby hospital, where the attending doctors declared him brought dead. According to the police on duty, two miscreants entered into Kamlesh’s office and one of them shot him. The culprits quickly fled from the location on a motorcycle.

Nai Dunia, a journalistngaged with a Hindi daily, recently exposed a few local people involved in illegal liquor trades through a number of roadside dhabas (restaurants). He was also threatened by those criminals with dire consequences a few days back. The police as usual took prompt action, and arrested two individuals suspecting their role in the crime.

Various media organizations, such as the Madhya Pradesh Journalist Union (MPJU), Journalists’ Forum Assam (JFA), National Federation of Newspaper Employees (NFNE), and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), have expressed serious concern over the murder of the journalists and asked the responsible authorities to book the culprits under the law of the land.

Condemning the assassinations of Shyam and Kamlesh, the IFJ commented that “two murders in nearly two weeks illustrate the dangerous conditions that journalists in India are facing.” The global media forum called on Indian authorities to immediately and thoroughly investigate these murders and bring those responsible to justice.

In a recent statement, the IFJ disclosed that 93 journalists were killed last year around the world, where India contributed six victims to the list. Iraq witnessed the highest number of journo-killings (15), followed by Afghanistan (13), Mexico (11), Yemen (8), Guatemala, Syria, India (all 6), Pakistan (5), and more, added the forum representing over 6,00,000 journalists in 140 countries.

Unlike Tibet (now occupied by China) the other peaceful neighbor to India’s northeastern part, Myanmar (also known as Burma or Brahmadesh), reported one murder in the first half of 2017. Wai Yan Heinn, 27, a Rangoon-based weekly editor, was killed on 16 April. He reportedly published a number of articles narrating the corruption of former military personnel turned businessmen.

Mentioning the case of Soe Moe Tun, who was killed on 13 December 2016 allegedly for reporting on illegal logging, Reporters Without Borders expressed resentment that the concerned investigation had gone slowly. Benjamin Ismaïl, the former head of its Asia-Pacific desk, recently commented that Soe’s family was still waiting for justice, but in vain.

Infamous for many atheist bloggers’ killings, Bangladesh witnessed the murder of one rural reporter at Sirajganj locality. Abdul Hakim Shimul, who used to work for Dainik Samakal, was shot dead on 2 February, when he was covering the clashes between two factions of the ruling party (Awami League). Bangladesh Manobadhikaar Sangbadik Forum strongly condemned the assassination, which was the first in 2017.

Comprised of eight States, northeast India lost over 30 journalists to murder in the last 25 years. The region giving shelter to many insurgent outfits witnessed the last incident relating to journo-murder in Tripura, where three Agartala-based newspaper employees were stabbed to death together in 2013. The killing of Sujit Bhattacharya (proofreader), Ranjit Chowdhury (manager), and Balaram Ghosh (driver) in the office premises of Dainik Ganadoot broke as sensational news. The State had no recent record of journalist-murders.

After a lot of hue and cry, the Tripura police arrested Sushil Choudhury, the Dainik Ganadoot proprietor and editor. He was also convicted by the west Tripura district and session court for the triple murders. But soon Choudhury received respite from the higher court and the Tripura government decided to forward an appeal to the Supreme Court against his acquittal in the sensational case. Manipur and Assam, where over 30 separatist armed militant outfits are still running their disruptive activities, witnessed the previous incidents of journo-murder (Dwijamani Nanao Singh in Imphal and Raihanul Nayum in Dhubri during 2012, Anil Mazumdar in Guwahati during 2009, Konsam Rishikanta in Imphal, and Jagajit Saikia in Kokrajhar during 2008, and more).

About the author

Nava Thakuria is a journalist based in Guwahati. He has been covering socio-political developments of northeast India, along with its neighbours Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, for various media outlets for more than two decades.

More articles by Nava Thakuria on Tibet Sun.

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