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Journalists' murder in largest democracies: Those working in conflict zones not alone in facing the brunt

By Nava Thakuria*
As we complete the first half of 2018, shocking news broke from America, one of the professed liberal spaces for journalists in a democratic world. A gunman stormed into the newsroom of a Maryland newspaper in USA and killed five media employees, including journalists. The June 28, 2018 shooting incident at "Capital Gazette" in Annapolis eliminating news-desk personnel Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John Mcnamara, Wendi Winters etc. suggests that journalists working in conflict zones alone are not facing dangerous times.
If the grand old democracy turns dangerous for scribes, the largest democracy in the globe maintains its status as a hazardous place for journalists. India reported the murder of four journalists in the last six months, and its troubled neighbour, Pakistan, follows with the casualties of two scribes. Another neighbour, Bangladesh, reported the murder of one editor-publisher, whereas other countries in the Indian subcontinent, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives, evaded any incident of journo-killing.
India lost three journalists in mysterious accidents within twelve hours in Madhya Pradesh and Bihar on March 25 and 26, 2018. Sandeep Sharma (36), a dedicated reporter of Bhind locality of MP, was mowed down by a truck in morning hours.The "News World" reporter succumbed to injuries in the hospital. Sandeep used to contribute media reports against the sand mafia and he had been receiving threats.
On the previous night, two scribes, Navin Nischal and Vijay Singh, were hit by a luxury vehicle in Bhojpur locality of Bihar and died on their way to the hospital. Navin (35), who used to work for "Dainik Bhaskar" and Vijay (26), who was associated with a Hindi magazine, were riding on a two-wheeler when the accident took place.
Latest was the sensational report of the murder of well-known Kashmiri journalist Syed Shujaat Bukhari, who was shot dead in Srinagar on 14 June by a group of militants. The proprietor and chief editor of "Rising Kashmir", Shujaat earlier faced similar attacks in 2000 and 2006. The brave and outspoken journalist was since provided government security. But this time, both of his security guards, Hamid Chaudhary and Mumtaz Awan, also died, facing the bullets of Islamist forces.
Starting his career in "Kashmir Times", Shujaat shifted to "The Hindu" as its Kashmir correspondent. Later he established Kashmir Media House that publishes the English daily "Rising Kashmir", Urdu daily "Buland Kashmir" and Kashmiri daily "Sangarmal". Hailing from Kreeri locality in Baramulla district, Shujaat has left behind his parents, wife and two minor children. He was cremated on the day of Eid after Ramzan's fasting days in his home place.
Pakistan lost journalist Anjum Muneer Raja, who used to work in Urdu daily "Qaumi Pukaar", to assailants on March 1. Raja, 40, was shot dead by the miscreants in a Rawalpindi locality while he was on his way to home in the late the evening. The second case was reported on March 27, when Zeeshan Ashraf Butt, a journalist from another Urdu daily "Nawa-i-Waqt" faced the bullets. Butt, 29, was allegedly targeted by the Begowala union council chairperson.
Bangladesh reported the murder of Shahzahan Bachchu on June 11 at Munshiganj locality. Editor of "Amader Bikrampur", Bachchu was suspectedly targeted by Islamists for his free-thinking comments. Various international rights bodies condemned the murder of Bachchu and urged the authority for genuine probe to find the culprits.
According various international agencies nearly 50 journalists lost their lives to assailants till date this year, where Afghanistan (casualty 11) tops the list. It is followed by Syria (7), Yemen, Mexico (5 each), India, USA (6), Pakistan, Mexico, Palestine, Philippines, United States of America, Ecuador (2 each), Bangladesh, Indonesia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Slovakia, Syria (1 each) etc.
India is placed at 138 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' (RWB's) 2018 global press freedom index, followed by Pakistan (139), Thailand (140), Cambodia (142), Malaysia (145), Bangladesh (146), Mexico (147), Russia (148), Singapore (151), Turkey (157), Iraq (160), Egypt (161), Iran (164), Laos (170), Cuba (172), China (176), Syria (177) etc.
Norway and Sweden have maintained their first two positions, whereas North Korea continues to be at the bottom of the list. Countries which perform better than India include Myanmar (137), Philippines (133), Sri Lanka (131), Qatar (125), Indonesia (124), Maldives (120), Afghanistan (118), Nepal (106), Bhutan (94), Israel (87), Hong Kong (70), Fiji (57), Mauritius (56), South Korea (43), Taiwan (42), United Kingdom (40), Ghana (23), Belgium (7), Switzerland (5), Netherlands (3) etc.
The year 2017 was reported to be a deadliest year for journalists, as the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) claimed 82 casualties. India witnessed the murders of Hari Prakash, Brajesh Kumar Singh, Shyam Sharma, Kamlesh Jain, Surender Singh Rana, Gauri Lankesh, Shantanu Bhowmik, KJ Singh, Rajesh Mishra, Sudip Datta Bhaumik, Naveen Gupta and Rajesh Sheoran.
Among those casualties, northeast's tiny State of Tripura reported two incidents of journo-murder within few weeks. Shantanu Bhowmik, a young television reporter was beaten and stabbed to death during a protest demonstration at Mandai locality of western Tripura. On the other hand, Sudip Datta Bhaumik, who used to work for a Bengali newspaper, was shot dead by a Tripura State Rifles constable at RK Nagar locality in the same area.
Both the murders created sensation in northeast India and the then State chief minister Manik Sarkar received widespread criticism from various quarters. Earlier the Communist chief minister had to digest brickbats following the murder of three media employees (Sujit Bhattacharya, Ranjit Chowdhury and Balaram Ghosh) in Agartala during 2013. Lately, a young reporter (Suman Debnath) faced serious attacks at Dharmanagar locality of Tripura on June 18; however he survived.
By now, Tripura has a Bhartiya Janata Party led government and the new chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb, following the saffron party’s poll promises, recently handed over the cases of Shantanu and Sudip to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for further probes. Meanwhile, CBI has booked three tribal leaders, Dhirendra Debbarma, Balram Debbarma and Amit Debbarma, in connection with Santanu’s murder. Dhirendra is a legislator nominated by Indigenous People's Front of Tripura, which is an ally to the ruling government in Agartala.
In 2017, Pakistan lost seven journalists, Muhammad Jan, Taimoor Khan, Abdul Razzaque, Bakshish Ellahi, Haroon Khan, Samar Abbas and Utpal Das, along with a novice scribe (Mashal Khan) to assailants. On the other hand, India's other neighbours namely Bangladesh, Myanmar and Maldives witnessed the murder of one scribe each.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), over 260 scribes faced imprisonment in 2017 for their works. Turkey, for the successive second year, emerged as the country with the highest number (73) of reporters imprisoned, followed by China (41), Egypt (22), Eritrea (11), Azerbaijan (10), Bahrain (9), Iran and Syria (7), Uzbekistan (6), Saudi Arabia (4) etc.
The Indian subcontinent reported the imprisonment of 25 media employees. Bangladesh leads with 10, followed by Myanmar (5). Besides imprisonments, many media persons are being abused and physically assaulted in different countries for their journalistic activities.
While international media rights bodies like RWB, CPJ, IFJ etc. have raised voices for justice to all slain media persons, the media fraternity in the Indian subcontinent continue pursuing for a pragmatic action plan to safeguard the journalists in the line of military, police and doctors on duty. They have put their arguments loud and clear, that if the nations want scribes to do risky jobs for greater interest, their security along with justice must be ensured.
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*Media activist based in Guwahati, northeast India

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