New Delhi: India has the highest number of journalists who were killed in “retribution” for their work this year, a report released this week by the US non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said.
Four out of the 19 journalists worldwide who were “murdered in retaliation for their work” in 2021 were from India, and a fifth died while on a “dangerous assignment”, said the watchdog in its annual survey on press freedom and attacks on the media.
According to the CPJ, four out of the five journalists who died had been “confirmed” to have been killed out of retribution for their coverage. However, in some of these cases, the versions of police are quite different from what the watchdog’s report has said.
ThePrint followed up on the circumstances around the deaths of the five journalists and tracked where the cases stand today.
Sulabh Srivastava: Police say ‘accident’, family disagrees
Television journalist Sulabh Srivastava, who was based in Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh, worked for ABP News and its regional arm ABP Ganga.
On 13 June, the 42-year-old journalist was found dead near a brick kiln just two days after he had written to senior police officers about receiving death threats following his reportage on liquor mafia.
In his letter, Srivastava wrote: “A report of mine against the liquor mafia in the district had run on the news portal run by my channel on June 9. Since then, there has been a lot of buzz about this report. When I leave my home I feel as if someone is following me… I have heard through my sources the liquor mafia is unhappy with my reporting and can harm me. My family is also very worried.”
However, when Srivastava’s body was found, the police initially termed it a “motorcycle accident”, and registered a murder case only after his wife filed a complaint, alleging murder by unknown persons.
Pratapgarh Superintendent of Police (SP) Akash Tomar, at that time, said the incident appeared to be an accident, based on statements of Srivastava’s colleagues and bystanders at the scene.
The police had also claimed that the journalist was “drinking” two hours before the accident. Srivastava’s wife Renuka, however, said Srivastava had left home to cover news about an illegal arms factory.
When ThePrint spoke to incumbent Pratapgarh Superintendent of Police (SP) Satpal, he said the case has been closed based on the testimonies of eyewitnesses and others who had been with Sulabh Srivastava before his death.
“Three of them were together — Manish, Rohit, and Sulabh. Manish and Rohit were on one motorcycle, and Sulabh was on another. He hit a pole on the road while returning and died in the hospital. The autopsy report ascertained the cause of death as due to shock and haemorrhage,” the officer said.
However, photographs of the deceased journalist at the scene of the “accident” have caused some controversy. According to an NDTV report, there were injuries on Srivastava’s face, and it appeared as if his clothes had been partially removed.
Manish Singh: Three arrests, but ‘motive’ unclear
Manish Singh, a Sudarshan TV journalist, was found dead in Bihar’s East Champaran on 10 August, three days after he had gone missing. His body was recovered from a lake in Mathlohiyar village.
At that time, Manish’s father Sanjay Singh, the editor-in-chief of the local paper Areraj Darshan, had told ThePrint that he suspected a “conspiracy hatched by those that my son and I wrote against as journalists”. Sanjay also said that he and Manish had received threats because they wrote against “jihadi dushman (enemies) and corruption”.
According to Sanjay, Manish had received a call from another journalist called Amarendra and went out at noon on 7 August, but never returned.
The police arrested three acquaintances of the victim — Amarendra Kumar, Mohammed Arshad Alam, and Mahendra Singh — but the circumstances of the case are still murky.
A senior police officer who didn’t wish to be named told ThePrint that while the three have been charged with murder and kidnapping, the probe in the matter is still on and the motive remains unclear.
“The FIR named over a dozen people. It is an ongoing investigation — multiple motives have surfaced, including that some people were angry over his reportage and his father’s journalism. We are still trying to establish the motive and the conspiracy,” the officer said.
Chennakesavalu: ‘Killed’ by corrupt constable he exposed
A 35-year-old journalist with EV5, Chennakesavulu, was allegedly murdered by a suspended policeman and his brother in Andhra Pradesh’s Kurnool district on 8 August.
The policeman, Venkata Subbaiah, allegedly held a grudge against the journalist after he was suspended from his post following a news report exposing a suspected nexus between him and matka gamblers and tobacco smugglers.
The reports were published on Chennakesavulu’s YouTube channel a month before his death and the suspended policeman allegedly conspired to kill him. Two weeks after the journalist’s reportage, Venkata Subbaiah was suspended following an inquiry. The police have arrested both accused.
Avinash Jha: Police blamed ‘love affair’ but now say ‘motive unclear’
An RTI activist and BNN News journalist, Jha, 24, went missing on 9 November and his partially burnt body was recovered three days later on the outskirts of Bihar’s Madhubani district.
The police claimed that a convoluted love affair was behind the murder and arrested one woman, Purna Kala Devi, and five men — Roshan Kumar, Bittu Kumar, Deepak Kumar, Pawan Kumar, and Manish Kumar. All are from Benipatti block. Both Devi, who was a nurse, and Roshan Kumar worked at a nursing home called Anurag Healthcare.
The police had claimed that Devi had fallen in love with Jha, but that another accused called Pawan Kumar was jealous and pressured her not to speak to the journalist. Pawan then apparently colluded with Roshan Kumar — who ran a testing laboratory in Benipatti —to kill Jha. Roshan’s motive, the police said, was that Jha had threatened to shut down his lab.
However, the deceased journalist’s brother, Chandrashekhar Jha, said that the real reason for the murder was that Avinash Jha was exposing “fake” medical establishments in the area, and that his work had led to fines or closures for several dubious clinics and labs. On 7 November, two days before his disappearance, the journalist had posted on Facebook: “The game will restart on 15/11/2021”.
Chandrashekhar had named Anurag Health Care (among other clinics that he said were part of a “medical mafia”) in a written complaint to Benipatti police station on 11 November. Three days after the journalist’s body was found, district authorities served notices to the nursing homes.
ThePrint spoke to SP Madhubani Satyaprakash, who said two other persons, Saroj and Manoj Choudhary, have been arrested in the case. “Saroj is also an operator of a nursing home here. We are still collecting evidence and the motive remains unclear,” the officer said.
When asked about the initial claims of a love affair as the motive, the SP said, “Devi and Kumar had confessed to it so we said that the motive is a love triangle, but there are other angles at play that we are working on”.
Raman Kashyap: Killed on duty
The 33-year-old Sadhna TV Plus reporter was killed in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence that erupted in October, and his death has been listed by the CPJ as being due to a “dangerous assignment”.
A Special Investigation Team (SIT) is probing the 3 October incident in which eight people lost their lives, including four farmers who were allegedly hit by vehicles carrying BJP workers. The other victims were two BJP workers and their driver.
Kashyap, a resident of Nighasan, was injured while trying to cover the incident. His brother Pawan had then told ThePrint that Kashyap “may have been alive” when he was picked up from the spot of the incident around 6pm but wasn’t offered immediate medical attention and was instead taken by the police to the mortuary.
The UP government instituted a judicial inquiry into the incident and announced compensation for the families of the dead and injured. Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra Teni’s son Ashish Mishra — allegedly a part of the convoy — and 13 others have been booked for alleged murder in the violence case so far.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)