The special police unit that was set up to investigate Gauri Lankesh's death announced on 2 March that they are questioning Naveen Kumar, the founder of a far-right group called Hindu Yuva Sena, in connection with the murder.
Arrested by Bangalore police on 18 February for illegal possession of bullets, Kumar is now believed to have formed a hit squad with four other individuals. The police think he received instructions from a handler who called him several times from a public phone booth before Lankesh’s murder.
“We hail the progress in the investigation into the murder of Gauri Lankesh, whose articles had long been a target of hatred from the Hindu nationalist movement,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Every possible effort must be made to shed light on this tragedy and to identify all those involved. And we call on the government led by Narendra Modi, himself also a member of the Hindu nationalist movement, to take a clear position on the investigation’s initial results.”
Prior to her murder, Lankesh had been the target of defamation suits by two members of the prime minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP is the biggest organization in the Sangh Parivar, the “family of organizations” that preach Hindutva, a mixture of Hinduism and pre-war western nationalism. The “family” includes many smaller groups, such as Naveen Kumar’s group, that espouse violence.
The Modi administration has for several years been trying to banish all “anti-nationalist” discourse from the Indian press, with the result that there is now a great deal of self-censorship. The prime minister’s troll army has often threatened and intimidated journalists who do not toe the line.
Death threats were made against many journalists in October that referred to the Lankesh murder. One online message said: “Now, if anyone in this country dares to write anything against Modi or his party, they will not be spared. They will be eliminated.”
At least ten Indian journalists have been murdered in connection with their work since the start of 2015. India is ranked 136th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.