Indian reporter murdered over story just hours after publication

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails the swift arrest of the real estate lobbyist alleged to have deliberately mown down a journalist who had for months been covering illegal land seizures in connection with a planned refinery in western India’s Maharashtra state. The accused killer must be brought to trial without delay, RSF says.

It is impossible not to make the connection. At around 1:30 p.m. on 6 February, just hours after the publication of his latest article, in which he named the lobbyist, journalist Shashikant Warishe was run down by an SUV while riding a motor-scooter near Rajapur, a city 385 km south of Mumbai, the state capital.

After the SUV had dragged Warishe for around 100 metres, its driver fled while Warishe was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he died of his injuries the next morning.

“The shocking murder of Shashikant Warishe, who had reported receiving death threats, is absolutely intolerable,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We salute the swift action by the police and we call on the Maharashtra state prosecutor’s office in charge of the case to ensure that the person or persons allegedly responsible are brought to justice. There can be no impunity for such a vile crime.”

Published on the morning of 6 February on the front page of the Mahangari Times, a local Marathi-language daily, Warishe’s story was about Pandharinath Amberkar, a local businessman who had been lobbying for the construction of a major oil refinery in Ratnagiri, the district where the murder took place

Intimidation and harassment

For the past several months, Warishe had been covering protests by local residents whose land has been illegally seized to make way for the refinery. And of late, he had singled out Amberkar as the person responsible for acts of intimidation and harassment designed to get the targeted residents to submit.

In his final article, he asked: “Why is a man who is a known tout and a pro-refinery agent, publicising photos of himself alongside the prime minister, chief minister and deputy chief minister?” The Wire news website quoted Mahangari Times editor Sadashiv Kerkar as saying Amberkar must have got wind of the story even before its publication, as it had been shared by local residents on several private social media.

Flawed legislation

After the police reportedly established that it was Amberkar himself who was driving the SUV, he was arrested last night (7 February) on a charge of murder and was remanded in custody until a hearing on 14 February.

Maharashtra is regarded as pioneer in the fight to protect journalists as it adopted a law to this effect in 2017. Unfortunately, its implementation has proved largely ineffective. The murder of Warishe, who had received death threats, has underlined its failure to prevent violence against media personnel.

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