CPJ calls for investigation into journalist’s burning death; police accused

New York, June 10, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for an independent investigation into the death of Jagendra Singh, an Indian freelance journalist who died from burn injuries in a hospital in Lucknow on Monday, the Press Trust of India reported. Before he died, Singh alleged that police set him on fire, according to news reports.

Singh was left with burns covering 60 percent of his body after a police raid at his home on June 1, local reports said. While being treated in hospital, Singh made a statement to a police officer named Amitabh Thakur in which he said another police officer, Sriprakash Rai, doused him in petrol.

In his statement, the journalist also accused Ram Murti Singh Verma, a member of the ruling Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, of “unleashing a reign of terror” on him and his family in reprisal for his investigative reports and critical comments against the minister, Times News Network reported. According to the report, the journalist told Thakur that his foot was broken during an earlier attack on April 28 near his house, by people he alleged were “the minister’s henchmen.” Thakur said he has video footage of Singh’s statement, according to reports.

Singh’s son Raghvendra has filed a police complaint naming Verma and Rai, the Press Trust of India reported. Raghvendra Singh told The Associated Press police “barged into our house and questioned my father about the posts.” He added: “They started beating him up … They poured petrol over him and set him on fire.”

Police Superintendent Babloo Kumar told CPJ that Singh killed himself when police attempted to arrest him. He said Singh was “wanted in a crime” and denied he was a journalist, adding that “he only wrote on social media.” When asked for further details, Kumar said Singh was wanted for murder. He added “I don’t remember” when CPJ asked for details of the murder the journalist was accused of being involved in.

“We call on authorities to conduct a swift, credible, and transparent investigation into the death of Jagendra Singh,” said CPJ Asia Program Research Associate Sumit Galhotra. “Given the allegations of police participation, and India’s poor track record of solving crimes in connection with reporting on local corruption, the involvement of an independent authority is essential.”

India is ranked number 13 on CPJ’s annual Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go free. India has repeatedly failed to advance justice in the cases of journalists working for local print publications that have been slain in connection to their reporting on corruption, politics, or crime, CPJ research shows

Singh had written critically about politics and current affairs in Hindi language newspapers and on his two Facebook public pages, which have more than 4,000 followers combined. English and Hindi-language news reports did not specify what newspapers he had written for. His son said Singh posted news stories on Facebook based on information he obtained through India’s Right to Information law and other sources, according to The Indian Express.

Singh wrote critically about Verma, alleging that he was involved in illegal mining and land grabs, the reports said. In a May 31 Hindi language Facebook post with an accompanying photo of Verma, the journalist alleged that the minister was involved in the gang-rape of a local woman, claims also reported in Hindi-language media. In another post a day earlier, Singh questioned the land holdings amassed by the minister.

In a Facebook post on May 22, Singh wrote: “Ram Murti Singh Verma can have me killed. At this time, politician, thugs, and police, all are after me. Writing the truth is bearing heavily on my life. After exposing some of Ram Murti Verma’s acts, he had me attacked…”

CPJ was not immediately able to reach Verma for response to the allegations against him.