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Indian journalist beaten, dragged after another burned to death

IPI calls for arrests, says impunity threatens press freedom

Journalists hold candles in memory of freelance journalist Joginder Singh in New Delhi, 12 June 2015
Journalists hold candles in memory of freelance journalist Joginder Singh in New Delhi, 12 June 2015

AP Photo/Saurabh Das

This statement was originally published on freemedia.at on 16 June 2015.

The International Press Institute (IPI) called on Indian authorities to conduct thorough probes into two recent incidents in the state of Uttar Pradesh in which one journalist was beaten and dragged behind a motorcycle and another was burned to death during a police raid on his home.

Journalist Haider Khan said that on Saturday [June 13] he was lured by a false tip to the scene of a recent robbery in Pilibhit, where four or five men then surrounded him and beat him before tying him to a motorcycle and dragging him approximately 100 metres.

The episode came less than a week after the June 8 death of journalist Jagendra Singh, who was hospitalised after suffering severe burns during a June 1 police raid on his home that his family said was ordered by a local dairy development minister in retaliation for Singh's reporting. Police implicated in Singh's death have reportedly maintained that it was a suicide.

"The degree of brutality alleged in these cases is shocking and authorities need to take swift action to prevent a perception from taking hold that journalists can be attacked in Uttar Pradesh with impunity," IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis said. "This is doubly true in the case of Mr. Singh, where the claim that a public official committed such a horrific act will surely shake public trust in government at a fundamental level unless it's subject to a full and transparent investigation."

Khan is a stringer for a television news channel. Initial reports indicated that police have opened an investigation centred on a man that Khan's reporting implicated in a wrongful land transfer.

Singh worked as a journalist via social media. Local reports said he posted reports to a Facebook page, Shahjahanpur Samachar, which has nearly 5,000 followers and which local news organisations would use to find stories.

In the months preceding the attack on Singh, he posted that Uttar Pradesh Minister for Dairy Development Ram Murti Verma had connections to illegal mining projects, corruption and other illicit activities. The journalist, after being hospitalised for his burns, said that Verma's men had attacked him near his house on April 28. He also, in a video statement recorded shortly before he died, accused Verma of sending the police to burn him.

"Why did they have to burn me?" Singh asked in the video. "If the Minister and his people had something against me, they could have hit me and beaten me, instead of pouring kerosene over me and burning me."

IPI Executive Board Member N. Ravi, the director of The Hindu and the chair of IPI's Indian National Committee, said he deplored the journalist's killing.

"Jagendra Singh was a courageous journalist whose main focus was to hold public officials to account," Ravi said. "It is distressing that he should have been murdered in so brutal a manner for his boldness and daring in taking on the powerful in the state."

Singh's family has called for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the case. The family claims that an aide to the minister, Gufran, was present during the police raid.

Following a complaint by Singh's son, Raghvendra, a First Information Report (FIR) was registered against Verma, Gufran and four others allegedly involved in the killing. The FIR was registered under sections on murder, criminal conspiracy, criminal intimidation and intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace.

Police report that they have opened a case targeting Verma and others.

However no arrests have been made, Ravi said. He called on the Uttar Pradesh government to work to create a protective environment by sending a strong message to the killers making it clear that the state will not tolerate such attacks.

"The state government in Uttar Pradesh should show a sense of urgency in bringing the murderers to book, following it up with a serious investigation that could lead to conviction in the court", Ravi commented.

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