Acharya, a stringer for Kanak TV, a local Oriya-language TV channel, and a reporter for Sambad, a local Oriya-language newspaper, was found with his throat slit and injuries to his chest in the eastern Indian state of Odisha on May 28, 2014, according to reports. Kanak TV and Sambad are owned by the Odisha-based Eastern Media group.
Police said assailants had stabbed Acharya the night before in a desolate area of Khallikote town in Odisha as he was on his way home from work, according to those reports.
Immediately following the murder, Kanak TV Editor-in-Chief Soumya Ranjan Patnaik told CPJ that he was not aware of any threats made against the journalist. Subsequent reports said Acharya had been threatened with death by the owner of a cashew processing plant in Khallikote, after the journalist published a report alleging child labor practices at the plant. The Hindu reported that the journalist was in possession of footage showing child laborers working under hazardous conditions.
While some initial reports citing Acharya’s editor and police suggested the murder may have been related to a family dispute, authorities on June 8, 2014, arrested Shyam Sundar Prusty, the owner of the cashew processing plant, and an alleged accomplice, N Ramesh Reddy, owner of a local light and sound unit, in connection with the murder, news reports said.
Police cited pre-existing personal enmity between Acharya and Prusty, but said that Prusty had seen Acharya’s reporting on child labor at his facility as an attempt to damage his business, according to Ashish Kumar Singh, police superintendent of Ganjam district, cited in The Indian Express. Singh accused Prusty of ordering Acharya’s murder, paying three friends 50,000 rupees (US$850), and providing them with three new SIM cards, according to reports.
Police said Prusty confessed to the murder, according to local news reports from June 2014.
In October 2014, police also arrested Sibaram Nayak, a journalist who works for the Odisha-based Eastern Media group, according to news reports. Police accused Nayak of speaking to Prusty on the phone before and after the murder, those reports said. Nayak was charged under sections 302 and 120(b) of the Indian Penal Code for murder and criminal conspiracy respectively, reports said. He denied any involvement in the murder, reports said.
Nayak, Prusty, Reddy, and two more suspects, Suresh Chandra Sahu and Santosh Kumar Moharana, were charged with murder and on June 27, 2019, were convicted by a Khallikote court, according to various news reports. Prusty was named as the mastermind of the crime, and the others as accessories, according to those reports. The five were sentenced to life imprisonment.
According to a June 27, 2019, press release by the Odisha Police, a sixth suspect, Nrusingha Panda, absconded and did not face trial. Satya Narayan Pradhan, inspector-in-charge of Khallikote police station, told CPJ over the phone in September 2020 that Panda had still not been located.
Acharya is survived by his wife and daughter, according to reports.