“This is the price for reporting the truth” Rakesh Singh said on his death bed while being filmed by a colleague. A reporter for the Hindi-language daily Rashtriya Swaroop, Singh died in a hospital in Lucknow, the state capital, on 28 November, the day after being set on fire in his home in Balrampur, a village 160 km east of Lucknow.
Singh, who was also known as “Nirbhik,” sustained burns to more than 90% of his body when three men entered his home on 27 November, doused him with an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that is highly flammable, and then set fire to him and his home.
One of the three men, Keshwanand Mishra, is local village chief Sushila Devi’s son. In an article published in the newspaper, Singh had accused Devi of corruption in connection with local infrastructure projects, including the installation of solar panels,
According to the police, the three assailants had been harassing Singh prior to the attack, telling him to stop publishing anything negative about Devi, who is about to run for reelection. Arrested three days after the fire, the three men confessed to the murder and have been jailed, the police say.
The Newslaundry website quotes a colleague of Singh’s as saying, on condition of anonymity, that Singh had told Balrampur’s district magistrate that he feared for his life, but the authorities took no action.
“We hail the rapid progress that has been made in the police investigation and we call for all those involved in this appalling murder, both perpetrators and instigators, to be brought to justice as required by the law,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“It is nonetheless shocking that this tragedy took place after the reporter formally notified the judicial authorities about the death threats being made against him. It is high time for the Uttar Pradesh government to start debating the adoption of a law on journalists’ safety, like the one that already exists in Maharashtra state, for example.”
Singh is the second journalist to be murdered in Uttar Pradesh this year. The first was Shubham Tripathi, who was killed by three shots to the head in Unnao, a suburb of Lucknow, in June after investigating organized crime activities linked to illegal sand mining.
According to RSF’s barometer, Singh is the fourth journalist to be murdered this year in India in connection with their journalism. Two were killed last month. One was Isravel Moses, a Tamil reporter who was hacked to death in the southeastern city of Chennai after been identified as a journalist to members of the local underworld. The other was Parag Bhuyan, who was deliberately mown down by a speeding car in the northeastern state of Assam, probably because of his coverage of local criminal activity.
India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.