Almost half of the 28 journalists killed in India since Modi became PM were covering environment-related stories

Nearly half of the 28 journalists killed in India since Narendra Modi took over as prime minister ten years ago, including media directors, investigative reporters and correspondents, were working on stories linked to the environment. Protecting journalists and combatting impunity for crimes of violence against them should at the centre of the elections in which Modi is seeking another term, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says.

At least 13 of the 28 journalists killed since 2014 were working on environmental-related subjects, mainly land seizures and illegal mining for industrial purposes. Several were killed for taking an interest in India’s so-called sand mafia, an organised crime network that excavates sand illegally for the country’s booming construction industry. Closely linked to politicians and often protected by them, the mafia is quick to silence journalists who take too close an interest in its activities, and does so with complete impunity.

In its recommendations to candidates competing in these  elections, RSF calls for the urgent creation of a system to guarantee the physical and digital security of journalists. To this end, account must be taken of the dangers linked to environmental issues.

“It is alarming to see that half of the journalists murdered in the past ten years were investigating environmental issues, often linked to the activity of criminal groups, mafias that maintain strong links with local authorities and enjoy almost total impunity for the crimes of violence they commit against journalists to protect their financial interests. This is appalling. Thorough and independent investigations should be carried out as a matter of urgency into the cases of murdered journalists and those who have been the victims of murder attempts. On the eve of crucial elections for the future of journalism in India, we call on candidates to undertake to end this unacceptable impunity and to prioritise the safety of all journalists.

Célia Mercier
Head of RSF’s South Asia desk

Journalists killed for investigating the environment

Journalists investigating the exploitation of natural resources by the sand mafias or other networks involved in mining have often been the victims of violent reprisals during the past ten years. One of the first was Jagendra Singh, a freelancer who died in June 2015 from the serious burns he sustained during a police raid. He had been working on a case of illegal sand mining involving the chief minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

In 2016, Jansandesh Times reporter Karun Misra was murdered in Uttar Pradesh and Hindustan reporter Ranjan Rajdev was killed in the northeastern state of Bihar. Both were shot dead by hitmen motorcycles as a result of their work on illegal mining activities. Sandeep Sharma, a reporter who was covering a sand mafia for the News World local TV channel in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, was killed by a dumper-truck that deliberately ran him down in March 2018.

Continuing abuses

The tragic killings continued after Modi, the leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), began his second term in 2019.

Shubham Mani Tripathi, a reporter for the Kampu Mail local newspaper was gunned down  in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, in June 2020 after voicing concern that he could be targeted because of his work on cases of illegal expropriations by the sand mafia.

Subhash Kumar Mahto, a freelance reporter known for his reporting on the sand mafia, was fatally shot in the head by four unidentified hitmen outside his home in Bihar in May 2022. Investigative reporter Shashikant Warishe died of his injuries in the western state of Maharashtra on 6 February 2023 shortly after being run down by an SUV driven by a real estate lobbyist connected to illegal land seizures that Warishe had been investigating.

The 15 other journalists murdered in connection with their journalism since 2014 were targeted for working on stories linked to corruption, organised crime, elections and a Maoist insurrection. One of the 28 fatal victims was a woman. It was Gauri Lankesh, who worked on disinformation. She was gunned down outside her home in Bangalore in September 2017 by members of the Hindu far right after being subjected to very violent online harassment by far right networks linked to the ruling party.

India is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2023 World Press Freedom Index.

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