Stifled voices: Sensational murders of journalists that became huge political controversies

Twenty-two journalists have been killed so far this year across the world, including Gauri Lankesh who was shot dead at her home in Bengaluru.

Published: 07th September 2017 01:03 PM  |   Last Updated: 07th September 2017 06:28 PM   |  A+A-

Protests over Tuesday’s brutal murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh spread across the country. | Express Photo Service

Protests over Tuesday’s brutal murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh spread across the country. | Express Photo Service

By Express News Service

CHENNAI: Twenty-two journalists have been killed so far this year across the world, including Gauri Lankesh who was shot dead at her home in Bengaluru on Tuesday. Whatever may be the motive, the murder of any journalist raises questions about the state of the freedom of the press in that country and the political atmosphere prevailing at the time. At a time when India's ranking on the Freedom of the Press index is a lowly 136, the Gauri Lankesh murder is likely to lead to a further slippage.

Here's a look at some sensational murders of journalists that became huge political controversies in their time.

Shivani Bhatnagar

She was a principal correspondent for Indian Express at the time of her murder in 1999. She was a member of the newspaper’s Special Investigation Unit. Her colleagues described her as an “intrepid” reporter. To her employer “she was one of the newspaper’s finest reporters with several exclusive stories to her credit.”

Shivani’s body was found inside her East Delhi apartment on January 23, 1999. Her assailants had stabbed her in the chest and abdomen. Police found that her residence was ransacked by the assailants in a bid to retrieve sensitive documents related to the St Kitts case. 

In 2002, the Delhi police named IPS officer RK Sharma as the prime accused in the murder case. Later, a Delhi court found him guilty of criminal conspiracy and murder. It was known that Sharma had leaked sensitive documents relating to the St Kitts case to Shivani. The prosecution argued that when Shivani threatened to expose him, he decided to eliminate her. 

Sandeep Kothari

A freelance investigative journalist, Sandeep Kothari dug up high-profile scams involving the mining mafia and political bigwigs in Katangi, Madhya Pradesh.

He was murdered on June 19, 2015, in Balaghat district. He was abducted and was set on fire by three youth -- Rakesh Nasvani, Vishal Dandi and Brijesh Duharwal -- who were allegedly involved in sand mining activities. Later, police arrested the three and they confessed to murdering Kothari. 

Prior to his death, Kothari had filed cases against “some persons” in connection with sand mining. Police officers who investigated his murder said there was pressure on him to withdraw the cases. In fact, in the weeks prior to his death, Kothari repeatedly approached the police informing them of the threats to his life from the mining mafia. 

Rajdev Ranjan

On May 13, 2016, Rajdev Ranjan, bureau chief of a Siwan-based Hindi daily called Hindustan, left his office at peak hour. A little later, he was shot dead by unknown assailants near the Siwan railway station, barely half a km away from the town's police station.

Ranjan, who started off his 24-year journalistic career as a stringer, focused mainly on crime and political reporting. He was known to be vocal against gangster and former Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Mohammad Shahabuddin.

The journalist’s widow Asha Devi claimed that Ranjan was killed as retribution for his scathing reports on the RJD MP who was currently serving prison time for dozens of charges including murder, illegal possession of arms and voter intimidation.

Reportedly, three years ago intelligence agencies gathered information that Shahabuddin had compiled a list of 23 persons that he wanted eliminated. The list allegedly contained names of people he wanted killed in order of priority and Ranjan featured seventh in it.

Devi said her husband had warned her that he too might be targeted after another person who was on the list — Shrikant Bharti, press adviser to BJP MP Om Prakash Yadav — was killed.

Following Ranjan's murder,  police arrested five suspects in June last year. They named one Laddan Mia as the man who had hired them to carry out the hit. Mohammad Kaif, another accused, was granted bail by the Siwan court earlier in the year.

Recently, the CBI filed a charge-sheet against Mohammad Shahabuddin and six others in the case.

Karun Misra

Soldier-like, driven and idealistic — that’s how Karun Misra’s friends described the journalist who was shot dead by three gunmen on motorcycles in broad daylight when he was returning to his home district. Misra was the Ambedkarnagar bureau chief of Hindi daily Jan Sandesh and had written stories about a particularly dangerous business — illegal mining.

He had ruffled quite a few feathers of people in the illegal mining business and according to an IndiaSpend report, by February 5, Misra knew “that something was going to happen on either February 11 or 12”. This realisation followed after Karun refused bribes and ignored a series of threats urging him to steer clear of the topic.

Following the murder, inspector-general A Satish Ganesh issued a statement saying that two mining contractors in the area were upset with Misra’s coverage in the paper.

On February 18, 2016, police arrested five people in connection with the murder and named two local mining contractors — Rahul Singh and Pawan Singh — as the masterminds behind the Misra’s murder. The pair allegedly paid Rs 1 lakh to the assailant for killing the scribe.

Parag Kumar Das

He was gunned down in broad daylight, reportedly by surrendered members of the separatist group United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). At the time of his death, he was the executive editor of Asomiya Pratidin. He was a human rights activist and documented cases of human rights abuse by members of the Assam police.  

An editorial in the Assam Times said he was killed because he was critical of some of the policies adopted by New Delhi. He had widely criticised human rights violations by security forces stationed in Assam. 

He was arrested under the National Security Act in 1992. Amnesty International said: "We has received reports of connections between police officials and SULFA activists. The absence of key police officers after the incident appears to support allegations of links between SULFA activists and officials in the state." 

The investigation of Parag Das's murder is still on. 

Ram Chander Chhatrapati

Reddy Ram Chander Chhatrapati, a journalist who ran a local Hindi-language evening daily Poora Sach in Sirsa, Haryana, was shot dead at point blank range by two men riding a motorcycle outside his residence on October 24, 2002. The journalist succumbed to his injuries four weeks later.

Chhatrapati was the journalist who first published the anonymous letter accusing Dera Sacha Sauda leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of sexually exploiting women finding solace in the Dera as sadhvis. In September 2002, the Punjab and Haryana High Court took suo motu cognisance of the letter.

Chhatrapati’s son Anshul fought the legal battle that reached a final outcome when a CBI special court found Ram Rahim Singh Dera guilty of rape on August 25.

Anna Politkovskaya 

A fierce critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian investigative journalist was murdered on October 6, 2006, coincidentally President Putin’s birthday. Like Gauri Lankesh, she was an intrepid journalist who challenged the illicit agenda of those in power. 

On October 7, 2006 her body was found inside the elevator of her apartment building in Central Moscow. She was shot at four times, police found. 

Anna made a career by criticising the Russian government and the military. She publicly condemned Russia’s military's conduct during the Chechen war. She was also a champion of human rights, rule of law and had written extensively on Kremlin’s crackdown on these.  

Her 2004 book Putin’s Russia: Life in falling democracy won her international acclaim. The New York Times went as far as to “bravest of the journalists.” 

She believed in reporting the truth fearlessly regardless of who you are up against. However, she was aware of the consequences of doing so in Russia. “People sometimes pay with their lives for saying aloud what they think. In fact, one can even get killed for giving me information. I am not the only one in danger. I have examples that prove it,” she said.  

Her professional work as a journalist and a critic of Kremlin earned her the wrath of President Putin. She once lamented that Russia under Putin was harking back to the Soviet-era, known for its repression of free speech. 

“We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the internet, where information is still freely available. For the rest, if you want to go on working as a journalist, it's total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison, or trial-whatever our special services, Putin's guard dogs, see fit,” she told during an interview.  

Carmine Pecorelli 

The Guardian described him as “a maverick journalist with excellent secret service contacts.” His murder landed an Italian Prime Minister in jail. 

At the time of his death in March 1979, he was the editor of an Italian language magazine named Observatorio Politico (Political Observer). 

One of the prime accused in his murder was Massimo Carminati, an Italian don who headed criminal gang Banda della Magliana and was linked to the death of a former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro. The bullet that was used to slay Picorelli was the one typically used by Carmanati’s gang. 

Giulio Andreotti who was Italian Prime Minister at the time was also implicated in the crime. Reports surfaced in the days following his death that Andreotti had ordered his assassination as he was about to publish information that would have destroyed his political career. It is not clear what the information was. Going by the Guardian’s version, Picorelli had accessed a former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro’s startling revelations about Andreotti government.   

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