New Delhi, October 30, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists called on authorities in Chhattisgarh to ensure the safety of media covering elections after a journalist embedded with police was killed in an ambush. Video journalist Achyutananda Sahu, who worked for the government-run broadcaster Doordarshan, was killed in Chhattisgarh today during a firefight between police and a Maoist militant group, according to news reports.
At the time of the killing, the journalist and two colleagues from Doordarshan were embedded with the police and covering preparations for upcoming elections, the reports said. Sahu was on a motorcycle toward the front of the group when the clash, in which two police officers were also killed, took place, according to the Indian Express.
State-level elections are scheduled to be held in Chhattisgarh in two phases, on November 12 and 20. Chhattisgarh is one of four Indian states that have been the scene of a Maoist insurgency in the past few decades.
“The killing of Achyutananda Sahu in Chhattisgarh underscores the dangers that journalists face when reporting in areas where Maoists operate,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney in New York. “Authorities must ensure the safety of journalists embedded with the security forces and do all in their power so that journalists can cover elections safely in any region.”
Dheeraj Kumar, who was part of the Doordarshan news crew, told The Hindustan Times that the group was ambushed as it headed toward Nilwaya, about 5km (3 miles) from a paramilitary camp in Sameli, a village in the Dantewada district. “I saw my colleague fall in front of me,” Kumar said. “We were planning to cover a newly-built polling station in Nilwaya where people haven’t voted since 1998.”
According to the police, the media team were caught in the crossfire when Maoists attacked the police. At a press conference, D.M. Awasthi, the special director general of police, said that Maoists, also referred to as Naxalites, had issued warnings about causing harm if the construction continued. Awasthi said that police would conduct anti-Maoist operations in coming days.
In response to the killing, Rajyavardhan Rathore, who heads the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting that has responsibility for the station, tweeted, “Stand in solidarity with family of the cameraman, we will take care of his family. We salute all those media persons who go for coverage in such dangerous situations, remember their bravery.”
Journalists in Chhattisgarh face serious challenges. According to CPJ research, authorities often pressure, harass, or abuse journalists in an effort to silence critical reporting. Meanwhile, Maoists are suspected of murdering veteran journalist Sai Reddy in 2013 and Umesh Rajput of Nai Dunia, in 2011. No one has been brought to justice in either of those cases. India ranks 14th on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which highlights states with the worst records of prosecuting killers of journalists.