Kothari’s body was found burned and beaten near railroad tracks in Maharashtra state’s Wardha district on June 20, according to news reports. Kothari was abducted by assailants a day earlier in neighboring Madhya Pradesh state, where he was based, according to news reports. Before taking him away in their vehicle, assailants beat Kothari and his friend, who was with him at the time, according to The Associated Press which cited police. The friend was left injured at the scene.
Kothari was a freelance reporter for multiple Hindi-language dailies, including Nayi Duniya. The journalist’s family said he could have been killed in connection with his coverage of illegal sand mining in the region, the AP reported. The journalist’s sister, Sandhya, told the New Delhi-based Asian News International news agency that she had begged Kothari to stop working as a journalist, fearing he would be killed. Another sibling told ANI that Kothari had written about illegal mining for the past five years and that he had recently faced jail time in connection with several criminal cases filed against him in alleged retribution.
The Press Trust of India cited a former local state official as saying that Kothari had written critically about the activities of manganese and sand mining networks operating in the state.
Police denied that Kothari was killed in connection with his journalistic work and said they believed he had been killed by business rivals, according to the AP report, which did not elaborate.
Kothari’s family said the journalist may also have been killed in connection with a court case he had filed against the owners of mining companies, calling on them to end their mining operations in the region, news reports said. Kothari’s brother said the journalist was under pressure from the companies to withdraw his complaint, according to news accounts.
Police arrested Rakesh Naswani, Vishal Dandi, and Brijesh Duharwal for allegedly kidnapping Kothari and setting him on fire, according to news reports. The three suspects were allegedly involved in illegal mining and also running chit (financial) fund companies, according to police. CPJ was unable to determine if the three suspects denied the charges against them.
Local journalists called for an independent investigation by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation into Kothari’s murder, casting doubt on the police’s handling of the case and citing police bias against Kothari, reports said.