New Delhi, March 29, 2018--Authorities in India's Bihar state must conduct a thorough investigation into the killing of Navin Nischal, a stringer for the Hindi-language daily Dainik Bhaskar, and Vijay Singh, a freelance contributor to local magazines, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Nischal and Singh on the evening of March 25 were riding together on a motorbike in the town of Arrah along the Arrah-Sasaram highway when an SUV hit them from behind and ran them over, according to a report in the newspaper Indian Express and Rakesh Kumar Singh, Dainik Bhaskar's bureau chief for the Bhojpur district including Arrah.
Nischal, who reported on local politics, had previously drawn the ire of town officials for his work, according to the Indian Express and Singh.
"The deaths of Navin Nischal and Vijay Singh are yet another example of how vulnerable journalists in India's small towns are to violence," Steven Butler, CPJ's Asia program coordinator, said from Washington D.C. "Police in Bihar state must thoroughly investigate Nischal and Singh's deaths to determine the motive, and ensure that any perpetrators are brought to justice."
Avkash Kumar, the Bhojpur district police superintendent, told CPJ that a special investigation team had been formed to look into the journalists' deaths.
According to Kumar, the Arrah village head, Mohammad Harshu, was driving the car that ran over Nischal and Singh. Police have arrested both Harshu and his son, Dablu who was in the vehicle with his father at the time of the accident, Kumar said.
CPJ was unable to locate contact information for Mohammad and Dablu Harshus' lawyers to get comment.
The Indian Express, quoting police sources, said that an argument had broken out between Nischal, Vijay Singh, and Mohammad Harshu earlier in the day.
According to Indian Express, Nischal's recent reporting on child marriage and on Harshu's role in land divisions angered the village head.
An unnamed Arrah resident told the Indian Express that Harshu threatened Singh with "dire consequences" for his reporting on land divisions.
Kumar declined to comment on the alleged threats.
CPJ was unable to determine where Vijay Singh was published or what topics he covered.
This is the second case of a vehicle running over a journalist in India in less than a week. Sandeep Sharma, who reported on illegal sand mining, died from injuries sustained when a truck ran him over on March 25 in Madhya Pradesh, CPJ documented.
A 2016 CPJ special report, "Dangerous Pursuit," found that small-town journalists in India face greater risk in their reporting than those from larger outlets, and that a culture of impunity makes the country's press vulnerable to threats and attacks.