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IFJ mourns killed journalist, calls for inquiry

(IFJ/IFEX) - July 7, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is shocked at reports that a freelance journalist, Hem Chandra Pandey, was killed in an armed encounter in which police in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh eliminated a leader of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), Cherukuri Rajkumar, alias Azad.

The incident reportedly took place late on the night of July 2 and was reported in the daily newspapers of July 4.

A person killed alongside Azad was identified by police as a Maoist cadre until his picture was published in the press. Babita Pandey in Delhi identified the photo to be of her husband, Hem Chandra Pandey.

At a press conference in Delhi on July 4, Babita Pandey reported that her husband had left for the central Indian town of Nagpur in Maharashtra state on June 30 for a journalistic assignment and had been unavailable on his mobile phone since then. She has since travelled to Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh, to claim her husband's body.

It is learnt that Hem Chandra Pandey, 30, may have travelled to Nagpur to seek an interview with Azad, who was then engaged in talks with intermediaries seeking a truce in the escalating confrontation between Indian security forces and Maoist insurgents.

The Indian Journalists' Union (IJU), an IFJ affiliate, and its constituent unit, the Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists (APUWJ), have raised "serious doubts about the circumstances" of Pandey's death and demanded "an inquiry by an independent authority".

Failure to do so, the APUWJ and the IJU said in a statement, would fuel perceptions that the killing was an attempt to "frighten and intimidate" journalists in the performance of their duties.

"Hem Chandra Pandey, like any journalist, was well within his rights in seeking to interview an insurgent leader, especially in the context of ongoing peace moves," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"The IFJ extends its solidarity to Babita Pandey and the family of the killed journalist, and welcomes the Andhra Pradesh Home Minister's announcement of a full inquiry."

The IFJ urges that the inquiry be conducted by a fully empowered judicial authority within a defined time-frame.

There was some initial confusion over Pandey's identity after a person allegedly speaking on behalf of the Maoist party claimed he was a member of its northern regional committee. This was swiftly denied by the official spokesperson of the underground outfit.

Pandey was involved in radical campus politics during his years as a university student in his home state of Uttarakhand. The organisation he was involved with is part of university life in many Indian campuses and its political affiliation to a party that has contested and won seats in India's Parliament is transparent.

Pandey, who also wrote under the officially recognised alias of Hemant Pandey, was a contributor to leading Hindi-language dailies such as Nai Duniya, Rashtriya Sahara and Dainik Jagaran. A portfolio of his recent writings shows a well-informed engagement with issues of wide social concern, such as inflation, food security and climate change. Nowhere does it reveal an advocacy of violence.

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