Rakesh Singh, a journalist with local Hindi newspaper Rashtriya Swaroop, died from burn injuries on November 28, 2020, after his house was set on fire in the Balrampur district of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh the previous day, according to news reports.
On November 30, Uttar Pradesh police identified and arrested three suspects in connection to the alleged arson, one of them the son of a local village head, but had not filed charges in the case as of early December, reports said.
In a press conference on November 30, Balrampur Superintendent of Police Dev Ranjan Verma said that the son of the village head was allegedly motivated to kill the journalist because of his critical reporting on the village head ahead in a local election.
Local news reports quoted Verma saying that the son of the village head, Singh, and Pintu Sahu, the journalist’s friend, were drinking alcohol at Singh’s home on the day of the 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 Sahu fell asleep, and the son of the village head called two individuals, one a pyrotechnic expert, to allegedly help him 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 a local hospital, while Singh was rushed to a hospital in Lucknow, west of Balrampur, where he later died.
Kalhans said he believes that the attack was 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.