Jagendra Singh, a freelance journalist who reported critically on politics and current affairs in Hindi-language newspapers and on Facebook, died from burn injuries he sustained after a police raid at his home on June 1, local reports said.
While being treated in hospital for burns covering more than half of his body, Singh made a statement to a police officer, Amitabh Thakur, in which he said another police officer, Sriprakash Rai, had doused him in petrol and set him on fire, the Press Trust of India reported.
Thakur said he has video footage of Singh’s statement, according to reports. In the statement, news reports cite the journalist as saying, “Prakash Rai was there and along with him were present four, five police personnel. The police team, led by Prakash Rai, barged into the house and started assaulting me. They could have as well arrested me.”
The journalist also accused Ram Murti Singh Verma, a member of the ruling Samajwadi Party in India’s most populous state, of “unleashing a reign of terror” on him and his family in reprisal for his investigative reports and critical comments against the minister, Times News Network reported. “Why did they have to burn me?” he reportedly says in the video. “If the minister and his people had something against me, they could have hit me and beaten me instead of pouring kerosene over me and burning me.”
Singh also told Thakur that his foot was broken during an earlier attack on April 28 near his house, by people he alleged were “the minister’s henchmen.”
Singh’s son, Raghvendra, filed a police complaint that named Verma and Rai, according to the Press Trust of India. Raghvendra Singh told The Associated Press that police “barged into our house and questioned my father about the posts. … They started beating him up. … They poured petrol over him and set him on fire.”
Police Superintendent Babloo Kumar told CPJ in 2015 that Singh killed himself when police attempted to arrest him. He said Singh was “wanted in a crime” and denied that he was a journalist, saying “he only wrote on social media.” When asked for further details, Kumar told CPJ Singh was wanted for murder. He said “I don’t remember” when CPJ asked for details of the murder in which the journalist was accused of being involved.
In September 2016, The Times of India reported that Uttar Pradesh state police had dropped the charges against Singh that they had said were the reason for his arrest. According to the report, police in May 2015 registered a case of attempted murder and kidnapping against Singh after a complaint by Amit Bhadauria, also a journalist.
Singh wrote on local politics and current affairs in Hindi-language newspapers and on his two Facebook pages, which have more than 4,000 followers combined. English- and Hindi-language news reports did not specify what newspapers he had written for. His son said Singh posted news stories on Facebook based on information he obtained through India’s Right to Information law and other sources, according to The Indian Express.
Singh often wrote critically about Verma, alleging that he was involved in illegal mining and land grabs, the reports said. In a May 31 Hindi-language Facebook post with an accompanying photo of Verma, the journalist alleged that the minister was involved in the gang rape of a local woman, claims that were also reported in Hindi-language media. In another post a day earlier, Singh questioned the land holdings amassed by the minister.
In a Facebook post on May 22, Singh wrote: “Ram Murti Singh Verma can have me killed. At this time, politician, thugs, and police, all are after me. Writing the truth is bearing heavily on my life. After exposing some of Ram Murti Verma’s acts, he had me attacked…”
CPJ was not able to reach Verma for response to the allegations against him.
No arrests were made immediately after Singh’s death. In the days following Singh’s death, local journalists and members of other political parties called on the chief minister of the state, Akhilesh Yadav, to remove Verma from his cabinet, according to news reports. A public interest litigation filed at the Allahabad High Court demanded a probe by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, news reports said.