The burned body of a journalist was found in the Indian state of Maharashtra on Saturday, the day after he had been kidnapped, according to news reports. The murder of Sandeep Kothari is the second such one of a journalist in India in less than two weeks.
“The horrific murder of another journalist in less than two weeks is alarming and is symptomatic of India’s entrenched culture of impunity,” said CPJ Asia Program Research Associate Sumit Galhotra. “We call on Indian authorities to launch an independent investigation into Sandeep Kothari’s death, identify the motive, and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Assailants on Friday night abducted Kothari in their vehicle in the central state of Madhya Pradesh after beating the journalist and his friend, who was with him at the time, according to The Associated Press which cited police. The journalist’s body was found the next day, burned and beaten, near railroad tracks in neighboring Maharashtra, news reports said.
Kothari’s family said the journalist could have been killed in connection with his coverage of illegal sand mining in the region, the AP reported. Kothari was a freelance reporter who wrote for multiple Hindi-language dailies, including Nayi Duniya, news reports said. 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.
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.
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 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 have arrested two suspects in connection with the murder and are searching for a third individual, news accounts said.
On June 8, Indian freelance journalist Jagendra Singh died in a hospital from burn injuries he sustained in a police raid on June 1, according to news reports. Before he died, Singh alleged that police set him on fire, the reports said. No arrests have been made in his case, according to reports.
CPJ research shows that at least 35 journalists have been killed in India since 1992, when the organisation began keeping records. India is ranked 13th on CPJ’s annual Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go free. India has repeatedly failed to advance justice in the cases of journalists working for local print publications who have been slain in connection to their reporting on corruption, politics, or crime, CPJ research shows.