NEW DELHI – Amnesty International called Wednesday for an investigation into the killing of a journalist in northern India who had accused a local politician of being involved in land grabs and corruption.
Jagendra Singh, a freelance journalist, died on Monday, a week after he was set alight in Uttar Pradesh state shortly after publishing an article and posting allegations on Facebook against local minister Ram Murti Singh Verma. The victim’s family allege Verma and a group of policemen raided Singh’s home, beat him up and then doused the 42-year-old with petrol and set him alight.
Rights group Amnesty urged the Uttar Pradesh government to initiate an independent investigation in order to bring the attackers to justice. “This horrific attack highlights the dangers that journalists can face in doing their jobs,” Shemeer Babu, programmes director of Amnesty International India said in a statement.
While police have opened a case against Verma and five others in connection with the murder, no arrests have yet been made. “We have booked the minister for murder and criminal conspiracy and the investigations are on,” Vijay Singh Meena, a senior state police official, told AFP. The Press Council of India (PCI) also called for a special investigation Wednesday, saying the incident was “an attack on freedom of press”.
India is one of the most restrictive countries for the press, ranked 136 out of 180 nations, according to Paris-based Reporters without Borders. Journalists in the world’s largest democracy often face harassment and intimidation by police, politicians and bureaucrats, while scores work in hostile conditions in the many conflict-ridden pockets of the country. In the meanwhile, Azerbaijan has blocked a visit by Amnesty International at which it planned to highlight human rights abuses in the south Caucasian republic as it prepares to host the inaugural European Games, Amnesty said on Wednesday.
The human rights campaign group said it had planned to launch a report called “Azerbaijan: the Repression Games” in Baku, but had been told by the Azeri embassy in London that Azerbaijan was “not in a position to welcome the Amnesty mission to Baku at the present time”.
Azeri officials were not immediately available for comment. The Games, a multi-sport event along the lines of the Olympics, open in the Azeri capital on Friday and run until June 28.
The ex-Soviet republic has been ruled by the late Haidar Aliyev and then his son Ilham since 1993. Although rights groups accuse the government of muzzling dissent and jailing opponents to prevent the rise of any political opposition, charges it denies, Azerbaijan is courted by the West as an alternative to Russia in supplying oil and gas to Europe.
On Tuesday, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was given one month to halt its operations in Azerbaijan, only months before a parliamentary election. Several rights activists and journalists have been jailed this year and last on charges including illegal business activity and hooliganism. Their lawyers say the trials were politically motivated.
Amnesty says at least 20 prisoners of conscience are in prison or detention awaiting trial on charges ranging from drug abuse to fraud or embezzlement and treason. “The actions of the authorities have only highlighted their desperate attempts to create a criticism-free zone around the games,” Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement. “The legacy of these games will be to further encourage repressive authorities around the world to view major international sporting events as a ticket to international prestige and respectability.”