New Delhi, November 16, 2021 – Indian authorities must conduct a swift and transparent investigation into the death of journalist Avinash Jha, determine whether he was killed for his journalism, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Jha, a reporter with the local news website BNN News based in the village of Benipatti, in the eastern state of Bihar, went missing on the night of November 9, according to the news website The Wire, which said he was last seen at about 10 p.m. at a medical clinic he owned in the town.
“Authorities in India’s Bihar state must thoroughly investigate the death of journalist Avinash Jha, determine whether he was killed for his work, and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “The Bihar state government must ensure that journalists can do their jobs safely, without threat to their lives.”
Jha, also known as Buddhinath Jha, also worked as an activist who investigated local private medical clinics, according to those news reports.
BNN News chief editor Kanhaiya Kashyap told CPJ over phone that Jha both reported on those clinics for the news outlet and filed complaints about them with authorities. On November 7, Jha announced on his Facebook page that he would initiate a new campaign against illegal clinics on November 15, Kashyap said. CPJ was unable to immediately locate that Facebook page.
Yesterday, police arrested six suspects in the killing, identified as Roshan Kumar, Bittu Kumar, Deepak Kumar, Pawan Kumar, Manish Kumar, and Purna Kala Devi, according to India Today and Jha’s cousin B.J. Bikash, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
In a statement, police alleged that Jha had met with Devi at a local clinic on November 9, where five men abducted the journalist. CPJ was unable to find contact information or public statements by Devi or the other suspects.
Police have also claimed that Jha might have been killed due to a conflict surrounding an alleged “love triangle,” according to India Today. However, both Kashyap and Bikash told CPJ that they doubted that theory, noting that it was not mentioned in the public police statement; they both said that they believed Jha was targeted for his journalism.
CPJ texted Satya Prakash, the police superintendent for Madhubani district, which is overseeing the case, for comment, but did not receive any reply.
In August, journalist Manish Kumar Singh was also killed in Bihar, as CPJ documented at the time.