Freelance reporter murdered for investigating illegal clinics in northeastern India
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the murder of a journalist in Bihar state, in northeastern Indian, whose burned body was found at a roadside three days after he went missing while investigating illegal clinics. Those behind this shocking crime must be identified and brought to justice, RSF says.
The charred body of Budhinath Jha, a freelance reporter also known as Avinash Jha, was discovered at the foot of a tree beside a highway in Madhubani district on 12 November. It was identified by a ring on his finger and a chain around his neck.
Jha edited a local news page on Facebook called BNN news in which he had been publishing a series of revelations about a network of illegal clinics that have sprung up Benipatti, the town in Madhubani district where he lived. He had also been filing requests for information about the clinics under India’s Right to Information Act (RTI).
His brother, Chandrashekhar Kumar, told the local media that Jha had been the target of repeated extortion attempts and threats designed to silence him. Two days before he disappeared, he had identified several of these so-called clinics more specifically in a Facebook post.
“Avinash Jha’s horrific death is all the more shocking because he clearly paid for his work and journalistic integrity with his life,” said Daniel Bastard. “We call on Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar to order an independent investigation that sheds all possible light on this appalling murder and identifies the instigators. Impunity for crimes of violence against journalists in India must end.”
The police officer in charge of the investigation, Benipatti sub-divisional officer Ashoka Mandal, told the media on 14 November that five suspects have been arrested in connection with the murder. Benipatti police station did not respond to a request from RSF for additional information this morning.
According to the RSF barometer that tracks press freedom violations, Jha is the fourth journalist to be killed in connection with their work in the past six months.
TV reporter Raman Kashyap was fatally injured when attacked while covering a protest by farmers in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in October. Chenna Kesavulu was stabbed to death by a policeman in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh in August after exposing corruption. Sulabh Srivastava was found dead at roadside in Pratapgarh district, in Uttar Pradesh, in June.
None of the ongoing investigations into these three murders has so far identified any instigators.
India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.