Journalist shot and killed in Assam

New York, November 24, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists mourns the loss of journalist Jagjit Saikia, who was shot dead in northeastern Indian state of Assam on Saturday.

Unidentified assailants shot Saikia several times at point blank-range near his office in the town of Kokrajhar, according to news reports and a local journalists’ representative. Saikia worked as district correspondent for the vernacular daily Amar Asom based in Assam’s capital of Guwahati, according to Nava Thakuria, secretary of the Guwahati Press Club, who spoke with CPJ by telephone this morning. Doctors declared Saikia dead from at least five gunshot wounds to the chest, according to local news reports.

Police are still investigating the killing and no arrests have been made, according to local news reports. But Thakuria said local journalists believe Saikia may have been targeted because of his reporting. Saikia frequently wrote about rivalries between armed groups and political organizations fighting over control of Kokrajhar and neighboring western districts of Assam that are ethnically Bodo, Thakuria said. Insurgents have advocated, at times violently, for a separate Bodo state despite ongoing peace negotiations with the central Indian government, according to published reports.

“Police in Assam must thoroughly and transparently investigate Jagjit Saikia’s killing,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia Program Coordinator. “Local governments in India’s northeast should make journalists’ security a priority to enable publication of essential news about local conflicts.”

In the neighboring northeastern state of Manipur, dailies in the capital, Imphal, have ceased publication in protest since Imphal Free Press sub-editor Konsam Rishikanta was shot and killed on November 17. No group has claimed responsibility for the killing. The strike by local newspapers is intended to draw attention to the security threats faced by local journalists, according to the All Manipur Working Journalists Union.

In a telephone interview last week, Imphal Free Press editor Pradip Phanjoubam told CPJ that he did not believe Rishikanta was shot because of his work at the newspaper. But the murder of a colleague carrying a press card in close proximity to security checkpoints was of grave concern to the local media community, Phanjoubam said.

Journalists in Manipur are vulnerable to pressure from both local insurgent groups and state officials seeking to publish their respective viewpoints, according to CPJ research.