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India's "embarrassment": 12 journos killed in 2017, making it a most hazardous country for media persons

Gauri Lankesh
By Nava Thakuria*
As the year 2017 sets to bid adieu, India finds itself in an embarrassing situation with the annual statistics of 12 journalists either murdered or died in suspicious situations. The populous country, better known as the largest democracy in the globe, thus emerges as one of the hazardous place for media persons across the world after Mexico, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia etc.
India’s troubled neighbour Pakistan lost six professional journalists and a media student to assailants in the year. On the other hand, its other neighbours, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Maldives, witnessed the murder of one scribe each in the last 12 months. Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet (now under Chinese occupation) evaded journo-killing incidents during the period.
The killing spree of media persons in India began with Hari Prakash (killed on January 2), continued with Brajesh Kumar Singh (January 3), Shyam Sharma (May 15), Kamlesh Jain (May 31), Surender Singh Rana (July 29), Gauri Lankesh (September 5), Shantanu Bhowmik (September 20), KJ Singh (September 23), Rajesh Mishra (October 21), Sudip Datta Bhaumik (November 21), Naveen Gupta (November 30) and Rajesh Sheoran (December 21).
On an average, the South Asian nation loses five to six journalists to assailants annually, but the public anger against those killings remained lukewarm. However, the murder of Kannada editor-journalist Gauri Lankesh at her Bangaluru residence sparked massive protests across the country. As the news of Gauri’s murder by unidentified gunmen spread, it immediately caught the attention of various national and international media rights organizations.
Even Communist leader and Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar was influenced by the protest-demonstrations. He personally joined in a rally at Agartala demanding justice over Gauri’s brutal killing. But when the young television reporter from his State fall prey to mob violence, he preferred to remain silent. Tripura-based journalists, while strongly condemning the murder of Shantanu, had to demand a response from Sarkar.
Later one more journalist’s (Sudip Datta) murder, by a trooper belonged to the state police forces put Sarkar in an uncomfortable position. The otherwise popular chief minister, who also holds the state home portfolio, was accorded with blames that Tripura had earlier witnessed the murder of three media employees Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh in 2013.
India is ranked 136th among 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index (2017), and it is just ahead of its neighbours Pakistan (139th position), Sri Lanka (141) and Bangladesh (146). Norway tops the list of media freedom index, where as one party-ruled North Korea (180) is placed at its bottom.
India’s other neighbours, Bhutan (84), Nepal (100), Maldives (117), Afghanistan (120) and Myanmar (131) ensure better press freedom.
Pakistan lost six journalists namely Muhammad Jan (January 12), Abdul Razzaque (May 17), Bakshish Ellahi (June 11), Haroon Khan (October 12), Samar Abbas and Utpal Das (untraced for weeks now) along with Mashal Khan (April 22), a novice scribe to assailants, whereas Bangladesh witnessed the murder of rural reporter Abdul Hakim Shimul on February 2.
Relatively peaceful Myanmar reported one journo-murder (Wai Yan Heinn) on April 16 and Maldives drew the attention of international media with the sensational killing of Yameen Rasheed, a journalist and human rights defender on April 23.
According various international agencies over 95 media persons spread in 28 countries were killed in connection with their works since the beginning of 2017. The statistics were, however, more dangerous in previous years (120 fatalities in 2016, 125 killed in 2015, 135 in 2014, 129 in 2013, 141 in 2012, 107 in 2011, 110 in 2010, 122 in 2009, 91 in 2008 etc).
The situation this year deteriorated in Mexico (14 incidents of journo-killings), Syria (12), Iraq (9), Afghanistan (8), Yemen (8), the Philippines (6), Somalia (5), Honduras (4), Honduras (4), Nigeria (3), Russia (3), Turkey (3), Yemen (3), Guatemala (2), Peru (2), Dominican Republic (2), Colombia (2) etc. emerged as the most dangerous countries for professional journalists in the bygone year.
India lost six journalists to assailants in 2016, which was preceded by five cases in 2015. The country witnessed the murders of two scribes in 2014, but the year 2013 reported the killings of as many as 11 journalists.
The vibrant Indian media fraternity observed an unusual Gandhi Jayanti (birthday of India’s Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi) on October 2 this year to raise voices for ensuring safety, security and justice for working journalists across the country. Different press clubs, media bodies and civil society organisations also organized various demonstrations in support of their demands.
The vulnerable media community continues pursuing for a national action plan to safeguard the media persons in the line of military, police and doctors on duty. Their arguments are loud and clear: If the nation wants the journalists to do the risky jobs for the greater interest always, their security along with justice must also be ensured.
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*The author is a Guwahati (northeast India) based journalist and media rights activist

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