A group of assailants ambushed Katha Satyanarayana, a local reporter for the Telugu-language regional daily Andhra Jyothy, in Andhra Pradesh’s East Godavari district, on October 15, 2019, and stabbed the journalist to death as he made his way home, according to Satyanarayana’s brother, K. Gopalakrishna, and media reports.
Gopalakrishna told CPJ that he received an anonymous phone call around 6:30 a.m. to say that his brother had been attacked. Gopalakrishna said that when he reached the spot, he found Satyanarayana dead, in a pool of blood.
A complaint that Gopalakrishna filed with the police, that CPJ has reviewed, names five men whom Gopalakrishna said were involved in the attack, including Ramalingeshwara Rao, a local lawmaker from the ruling YSR Congress party. The complaint alleged that Rao, who is also known as Dadisetti Raja, ordered the attack.
Rao did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app. He was cited in the Indian Express as denying any role in the killing. “My name has been unnecessarily drawn into this case although I have done no wrong. It is due to media pressure that police is investigating me,” he said.
Satyanarayana’s son, Katha Sai Rajesh, told CPJ that in the past six months, the journalist had written a series of reports on Rao’s alleged illegal business activities.
According to an official complaint that the Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists filed to the Press Council of India, Satyanarayana received a threatening call on September 9, 2019, about an article on Rao’s real-estate dealings, from someone who identified themselves as a Rao supporter.
Rajesh said that Satyanarayana informed police about the call and an attempted attack that took place in September.
A police report into that attack, viewed by CPJ, said that at about 8.20 p.m. on September 20, 2019 four men armed with swords attacked Satyanarayana, who managed to escape. In a police complaint, the journalist said that earlier that day he had received a WhatsApp message from an anonymous user, with a clip of an article he had written about Rao.
On October 30, 2019, the police filed a charge sheet that named seven individuals as suspects in Satyanarayana’s killing. Director General of Police Gautam Sawang told CPJ via phone the following day that police arrested six of the suspects and expected to detain the seventh soon.
The suspects named in the charge sheet did not include Rao and were not the people named in the complaint filed by the journalist’s family.
Gopalakrishna told CPJ that he doesn’t believe that the police arrested the real culprits. “Neither my brother nor I know any of the six people police claim to be behind the murder,” he said.
Rajesh told CPJ that the police charge sheet stated that Satyanarayana was a victim of revenge killing. According to the police report, he was a supporter of the last government and tried to use his influence as a journalist to harass the men who killed him, Rajesh said.
“They have painted a false story and labelled my father as a bad person,” Rajesh told CPJ.
In response, Sawang told CPJ that the police investigated the case objectively. “We used technical tools available, which helped us zero down on the real culprits,” he said.
Vemuri Radhakrishna, managing director of the paper where Satyanarayana worked, said it was unclear to him why the journalist was killed. Radhakrishna, who is based in Hyderabad, said that the paper’s office in Tuni told him that Satyanarayana used his position as a journalist to threaten locals. Radhakrishna added that while he was not happy with the police investigation so far, “[Satyanarayana’s] killing could be a personal issue.”
As of November 1, 2019, Amar Devulapalli, a media adviser to the Andhra Pradesh government, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app.