A street in Lucknow, India, as pictured on April 4, 2017. A journalist from Balrampur was rushed to a Lucknow hospital after an alleged arson attack on his home, and later died. (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)

Uttar Pradesh journalist dies after alleged arson attack

New Delhi, December 4, 2020 — Police in India’s Uttar Pradesh state must thoroughly investigate the death of journalist Rakesh Singh and ensure that those responsible are swiftly prosecuted, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On November 28, Singh, a journalist with a local Hindi newspaper Rashtriya Swaroop, died from burn injuries after his house was set on fire in Balrampur district in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh the previous day, according to news reports. On November 30, the police arrested three suspects in connection to the alleged arson, one of them the son of a local village head, reports said. The three have not yet been charged. 

News website Indian Express quoted Balrampur Superintendent of Police Dev Ranjan Verma saying that the son of the village head was motivated to allegedly kill the journalist because of his critical reporting on the village head ahead of a local election.  

“Uttar Pradesh authorities must thoroughly investigate the death of Rakesh Singh and hold all those responsible to account,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher. “Uttar Pradesh authorities must condemn this heinous crime and send a clear message that violence against journalists reporting on corruption will not be tolerated.” 

According to local news reports, police said that the son of the village head, the journalist Singh, and his friend Pintu Sahu were drinking alcohol at Singh’s home on the day of the alleged arson attack. During that meeting, the son of the village head tried to convince Singh to stop writing negative reports about his mother, Verma told Indian Express.

According to reports, the journalist and his friend Sahu passed out from drinking and the son of the village head called two individuals, one a pyrotechnic expert, to help him allegedly set the home on fire using alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 

Siddharth Kalhans, secretary of the Indian Federation of Working Journalists, told CPJ via phone that the alleged assailants locked the door of the room from the outside as Singh and Sahu tried to escape. According to broadcaster NDTV, Sahu died on the way to the local hospital, while Singh was rushed to a hospital in Lucknow, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) west of Balrampur, where he later died. 

Kalhans said he believes that the alleged attack is in retaliation for the journalist’s reporting on the village head’s family, though did not point to a specific article. 

According to Newslaundry and Kalhans, Singh had informed the local authorities about a possible threat to his life over his reporting, but the police did not take action. According to Indian Express, one of two alleged assailants who helped the village head’s son had an “old enmity” with the journalist which escalated into an argument last year that was resolved by local police. The report did not provide further details on the incident. 

CPJ emailed the Balrampur police for comment but did not receive a response. 

In June of this year, another local journalist, Shubham Mani Tripathi, was killed in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district in relation to his reporting, as CPJ documented.