India: death threats against journalists by Hindu nationalists

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Indian authorities to identify and prosecute those responsible for the many death threats against journalists in the past two weeks and reminds Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government that the safety of journalists is a cornerstone of democracy and the rule of law.

The targets of a wave of threats that began on 14 September include Deeksha Sharma, a journalist with the news website The Quint, who received several messages threatening her with rape and murder after she describe a rap video as “misogynist.”

One of these messages, written in Hindi and sent to her by WhatsApp on 17 September, referred to Gauri Lankesh, a woman journalist who was brutally murdered on 5 September.

“Why was Gauri Lankesh killed?” the message said. “Because she was a journalist (...) because Gauri used to write against the Modi government (...) She was anti-nationalist and anti-Hindu. Now, if anyone in this country dares to write anything against Modi or his party, they will not be spared. They will be eliminated.”

Abhay Kumar, a journalist with the Asian News International news agency, received a similarly threatening message the same day from a phone number that has been unreachable ever since. It attacked all those who criticize Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its paramilitary wing, the RSS.

At least two of Sharma’s fellow journalists at The Quint received death threats from 17 to 20 September. Mohammad Ali, The Hindu newspaper’s correspondent in Uttar Pradesh, received threatening calls from two different numbers on 20 September. Debobrat Ghose, a reporter for the Firstpost website, received the same threatening message three times from different numbers on 21 September. The same thing happened to NDTV’s Sonal Mehrotra Kapoor.

The interviews conducted by RSF suggest that this is not an exhaustive list of journalists who have received death threats.

“This wave of threats is indicative of a climate that no longer allows the use of press freedom in India,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“Since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, journalists have repeatedly been the targets of threatening campaigns orchestrated by nationalists, campaigns that can lead to death, as we saw last month. The government must demonstrate its support for the targeted journalists and clearly condemn the hate messages they are receiving.”

Gauri Lankesh was the first of two journalists to be murdered last month. The second was Shantanu Bohwmick, who was beaten to death while covering a nationalist demonstration on 20 September.

As the journalist Swati Chaturvedi revealed in a recent book, the BJP has for the past three years been developing an army of millions of trolls called “yoddhas” (warriors) by Modi. Their job is to use social networks to attack journalists on the BJP hit list, calling for them to be raped or murdered.

Instead of condemning these messages, Modi follows the trolls on Twitter and even received some of them at his official residence on 1 July 2015.

Since 2015, at least nine journalists have been murdered in connection with their work in India, which is ranked 136th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 03.10.2017