2020 — An aweful year for Indian journalists

The country not only lost more than 50 working journalists to novel coronavirus infection-aggravated ailments but it also witnessed killings of 14 scribes till the third week of December, writes Nava Thakuria

Devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic since March, the robust Indian media fraternity has finally bid farewell to 2020 with largest of journo-murders in the world. As the populous country lost over 50 working journalists to novel coronavirus infection aggravated ailments, the largest democracy in the globe also witnessed killings of 14 scribes till the third week of December.

India along with Mexico emerge as the most dangerous countries for working journalists this year, where the global tally of media victims to assailants reaches to 90 (since January) in 31 countries. Mexico, as it routinely observes journo-murders for several years, witnessed the killings of 12 scribes in 2020 followed by Pakistan (8 dead), Afghanistan (7), Iraq, Honduras (5 each), Syria, the Philippines (4 each), etc.

Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), the Geneva-based media watchdog in its annual report stated that Nigeria and Venezuela witnessed the murders of three scribes each, followed by Brazil, Guatemala, Liberia, Somalia, (two each), Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, Yemen, Russia, Argentina, Cameroon, Colombia, Ecuador, Mozambique, Paraguay, Sweden, Barbados, etc (one each).

“Fewer journalists have died in areas of armed conflict this year, but too many of them have been targeted for their works in peaceful countries,” commented Blaise Lempen, general secretary of PEC (www.pressemblem.ch) maintaining the strong stand of condemnations against those media killings and consistent demand to book the culprits under concerned laws.

More than 570 journalists have died of Covid-19 complications where affected countries include Peru (93 casualties), India (53), Brazil (50), Ecuador (41), Bangladesh (41), Mexico (40), Italy 34, USA (29), Turkey (16), Pakistan (13), UK (12), etc and thus a single year snatched away the lives of over 600 journalists with the pandemic and violence, stated Lempen adding that it is the worst statcistcs since the Second World War.

India witnessed the latest killing of  Malayalam journalist SV Pradeep (43), who lost his life in a hit & run incident on 14 December evening inside Thiruvananthapuram city. Pradeep, who remained critical over the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Communist party ruled Kerala, worked for media outlets like News 18, Jai Hind, Mediaone, Mangalam, Kairali, etc.

Earlier sad news broke from Uttar Pradesh (UP), where journalist Rakesh Singh Nirbhik (35) was found dead along with a friend on 28 November as his house in Balrampur locality was hit by a sudden explosion. Severely injured Rakesh and his friend were taken to the hospital, where both succumbed to burn injuries. Victim families claimed it as a pre-planned murder as Rakesh developed enmities against some locals with his media reports in Rashtriya Swaroop.

Days back, a journalist from Andhra Pradesh (AP) named G Nagaraj (45) was killed by a group of goons at Hanumantha area adjacent to Tamil Nadu. The Telugu reporter was attacked with sharp weapons in full public view on 22 November and he died on his way to the hospital. Nagaraj wrote a series of articles against the real-estate mafia for Tamil newspaper Villangam to invite probable enmities.

UP’s Sonbhadra locality witnessed the murder of rural reporter Uday Paswan along with his wife on 16 November.  Associated with a Lucknow-based Hindi daily, Paswan died on the spot as they were attacked by a group of goons. His wife Sheetla Paswan succumbed to injuries next day in the hospital. Another UP scribe Suraj Pandey (25) was found dead on a railway track at Sadar Kotwail area on 12 November. His family members in Unnao locality claimed that the Hindi reporter was murdered.

Bhopal based television reporter Syed Adil Wahab (35) was found murdered at a forest area on 8 November. Wahab, who used to work for a Hindi news channel  went missing since the previous day and later his  injured body was recovered by the police. Tamil television scribe
Isravel Moses (27) was hacked to death by a group of anti-social elements in  Kancheepuram on the same day.

Assam’s Kakopathar based television journalist Parag Bhuyan (55) died in a mysterious road accident on 11 November night. The government also already ordered a CID probe into the incident and the police have seized the vehicle that hit Bhuyan and arrested its driver & handyman. Another UP journalist Ratan Singh (45), who worked for satellite news channel Sahara Samay was shot dead by his neighbours in Ballia locality on 24 August. Tinsukia based Assamese television scribe Bijendeep Tanti (32) was found murdered on 8 August at his rented office.

Weeks back, Madhya Pradesh journalist Sunil Tiwari (35), who worked for a Gwalior-based Hindi newspaper was beaten, stabbed and shot to death in Niwari locality on 22 July. Same day, UP journalist Vikram Joshi (45) succumbed to injuries in the hospital who was attacked on 20 July by some local goons. Another AP journalist named Ganta Naveen (27) was murdered at Nandigama locality on 29 June. The digital channel reporter developed enmity with some influential persons in his locality and they are suspected to organize the crime.

The brutal murder of UP’s young and brave reporter Shubham Mani Tripathi  shocked the media fraternity. Shubham (25) continued reporting against illegal sand miners to Kanpur-based Hindi daily Kampu Mail even after receiving death-threats from the criminals. He was shot dead in Unnao locality on 19 June by two shooters. Orissa’s portal reporter Aditya Kumar Ransingh (40) was killed on 16 February in Banki locality.

Last year, India witnessed nine incidents of journo-killings, but only one case emerged as a targeted murder for works as journalist. K Satyanarayana (45) of Andhra Jyothy was hacked to death on 15 October. Local scribes informed Satyanarayana was targeted in earlier too. Others who were killed last year include Jobanpreet Singh,Vijay Gupta, Radheyshyam Sharma, Ashish Dhiman, Chakresh Jain, Anand Narayan and Nityanand Pandey. Kerala scribe K Muhammed Basheer was mowed down by a vehicle.

Various local, regional and national journo-bodies in India along with a number of international media watchdogs like the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters sans/without Borders, International federation of journalists, PEC, etc have condemned the incidents of murders and demanded the government to book the culprits under the law ensuring justice to the victim-families.

The author is a northeast India based journalist and country contributor to PEC. Views expressed are his own