Pandey, who contributed to Hindi-language newspapers, was killed in a shootout between Maoists and state police in Andhra Pradesh, southern district of Adilabad, news reports said. Also killed was Cherukuri Rajkumar, known as Azad, a leader of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), who had been arranging peace talks between Maoists and the central government.
Pandey was employed in the corporate communications department of the Delhi-Assam Roadways Corp, local news reports said. Media reports said he wrote articles under the name of Hemant Pandey in Hindi-language dailies such as Nai Dunia, Dainik Jagaran, and Rastriya Sahara. His last piece, on July 1, had been a commentary on food shortages.
Communist Party spokesperson Gudsa Usendi and Pandey’s wife were quoted in news reports as saying the victim was meeting with Azad for an interview. They alleged the two men had been set up by police, local news reports said.
Police identified Pandey as a colleague of Azad. A press release by the Communist Party’s north regional bureau said the reporter was a member, although party leaders also called him a journalist in local news reports.
In a press conference in Delhi following the journalist’s death, his wife Babita Pandey denied Pandey was involved with Maoists, and said he had travelled to Nagpur to cover a story, according to reports. Babita Pandey said her husband wrote stories for Hindi newspapers including Nai Dunia, Rastriya Sahara, Dainik Jagran, according to investigative magazine Tehelka. Editors of all three papers denied Pandey worked for them, but Tehelka reported that it was in possession of Pandey’s news clippings published under the name Hemant Pandey.
Police claimed that Pandey was Azad’s colleague. A press release attributed in the press to the Communist Party’s north regional bureau said the reporter was a member, although party leaders called him a journalist in local news reports. The Maoist party issued a statement on July 4 stating that Pandey was only a journalist and was not a member of the group, and raised questions about the authenticity of the previous statement, The Hindu reported. The group added that Pandey was killed by the police in an effort to eliminate any witnesses in the killing. Police have maintained that it was an encounter killing. In India, encounter killings refer to cases where police or armed forces say they were acting in self-defense when a suspect who was unarmed or in custody dies.
In statements, the Indian Journalists’ Union and the Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists raised “serious doubts about the circumstances” of Pandey’s death and demanded an independent inquiry.
In April 2011, the Supreme Court of India ordered an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the killing of Pandey and Azad. The court was hearing a petition filed by the journalist’s wife, Babita Pandey, and social activist Swami Agnivesh, who claimed this was a “fake encounter killing.”
In a final report submitted to the Supreme Court a year later, the bureau said that the killing was a “real” encounter.
Pandey’s wife was continuing legal efforts to attain justice in 2016, according to The Hindu.