NEW DELHI: Press freedom in India has deteriorated in 2018 and three journalists have been killed in the first four months, media watchdog The Hoot said, stating that "journalists continue to be vulnerable".
The number of killings documented by the Hoot report for the first four months was the same as in the whole of 2017.
"They were killed in connection with their reporting, judging by what initial investigations show," it said.
India ranks 138th among 180 countries on this year's World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders. India's rank was 136th in 2017 and 133rd in 2016.
The number of documented attacks on journalists and media workers across the country during the period was 13. It includes three in West Bengal. In 2017, documented attacks stood at 46.
Apart from these, there were defamation cases that came to trial. A sedition case was filed against a journalist. There was also a clear push by both the State, Centre and the judiciary -- through regulatory policy as well as judicial orders -- to curb free speech, The Hoot said.
"Media freedom continued to deteriorate in the first four months of 2018 in India," said the non-profit watchdog.
"There were also around 50 instances of censorship and more than 20 instances of suspension of Internet services as well as the taking down of online content," it added.
All three journalists killed in the January-April period were mowed down by vehicles.
On March 26, two Dainik Bhaskar journalists -- Navin Nishchal and Vijay Singh -- were killed when their bike was hit by an SUV in Bhojpur in Bihar.
Police said the vehicle was driven by a village leader and that a heated argument between him and the reporters over a news report had preceded the "accident".
A day later, television reporter Sandeep Sharma was mowed down by a truck in Bhind, Madhya Pradesh. Sharma, who had done a sting operation on a sand mining mafia in Bhind, had told police that he had received threats to his life, it said.
Hoot's investigation revealed that politicians, businessmen, members of Hindu right wing groups, police and paramilitary forces, government agencies like the film certification board, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, state governments, lawyers and even media groups had acted to undermine freedom of expression.
India's record on press freedom has remained poor and has been deteriorating over the last couple of years.
The Hoot report, however, said: "Despite the ominous number and range of attacks on freedom of expression, the ongoing struggle to resist these curbs does yield results."
In April, an injunction on the publication of a book on yoga guru and businessman Baba Ramdev was lifted by a district court in Delhi.