Uttar Pradesh police are seen at India's Delhi-Ghaziabad border on April 21, 2020. Journalist Shubham Mani Tripathi was recently killed in Uttar Pradesh. (AFP/Prakash Singh)

Indian journalist shot and killed after reporting on land dispute; 3 suspects arrested

New Delhi, June 23, 2020 — Police in India’s Uttar Pradesh state must thoroughly and transparently investigate the killing of journalist Shubham Mani Tripathi, and ensure that all responsible are brought to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On June 19, two assailants shot and killed Tripathi, a reporter with the local Hindi daily Kampu Mail, in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district, according to news reports and his brother Rishabh Mani Tripathi, who spoke to CPJ over the phone.

According to a complaint Rishabh filed to police on the night of June 19, which CPJ reviewed, Tripathi was returning home on a motorcycle with a friend when he was attacked. He was rushed to a local hospital but died soon after, the complaint said.

Today, Unnao police arrested Afshar Ahmed and Abdul Bari, the alleged shooters, and Shahnawaz Azhar, an alleged co-conspirator, according to a police press release, which CPJ reviewed.

“Uttar Pradesh authorities must show that they are taking violent attacks on journalists seriously. The arrests of three suspects in Shubham Mani Tripathi’s killing is a good start, but police must also find the mastermind and all those involved, and hold them all to account,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “We urge Uttar Pradesh authorities to take steps to protect all journalists working in the state. Ensuring that no one can kill with impunity is the most effective measure of all.”

According to the press release, Azhar told police that local real estate figure Divya Awasthi arranged the journalist’s killing in retaliation for Tripathi’s articles and Facebook posts about an allegedly illegal construction project she had undertaken. That project was demolished by authorities in response to his reporting, according to that police statement.

The police press release alleged that Awasthi instructed a person identified as Monu Khan to pay Ahmed and Bari a combined 400,000 rupees ($5,200) to kill Tripathi.

That statement said Khan and Awasthi have absconded, and offered a reward for information leading to their arrests.

Rishabh’s complaint named Azhar, Aswathi, and eight others who were allegedly involved in the killing.

According to a journalist in Unnao who knew Tripathi and who spoke to CPJ over the phone, Tripathi had mailed letters to state authorities on June 15 saying that he had been threatened. The journalist, who declined to be identified for security reasons, told CPJ that Tripathi named the same 10 suspects as mentioned by his brother in the police complaint.

Unnao Superintendent of Police Dhawal Jaiswal referred CPJ to Vinod Kumar Pandey, an additional superintendent of police, for comment. When CPJ called Pandey, he was not available to speak; when CPJ texted him, he did not respond.

CPJ could not find contact information for the suspects mentioned in the police complaint, or public statements from them regarding this case.