Outspoken journalist, critic’s murder sparks outcry in India

Lankesh’s death: Brutal assault on freedom of press

BANGALORE: Indian protesters take part in a rally condemning the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore.-AFP

BANGALORE, India: Indian activists, politicians and journalists demanded a full investigation yesterday into the murder of Gauri Lankesh, a newspaper editor and outspoken critic of the ruling Hindu nationalist party whose death has sparked an outpouring of anger. The 55-year-old, who was shot dead by three unknown gunmen on a motorcycle as she entered her home in the southern city of Bangalore in Karnataka state late Tuesday, was a fierce critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing government.

The Editors Guild of India said her death was “an ominous portent for dissent in democracy and a brutal assault on the freedom of the press”, calling for a swift and thorough investigation. India has a historically poor record on journalists’ safety, although most deaths occur in remote rural areas away from the major urban centers. But critics of Modi’s government say dissent is being stifled as nationalist sentiment grows in the world’s largest democracy.
In April, Reporters Without Borders ranked India 136th of 180 countries in its world press freedom ratings, blaming “Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate”. The press freedom group says 25 journalists have died in India since 2010.

Assassination on democracy
The latest death follows the assassinations of vocal Indian secularists including M.M. Kalburgi, who was shot dead in 2015 in Karnataka, allegedly by Hindu radicals. In 2013, another leading rationalist thinker, Narendra Dabholkar, was shot dead by two gunmen as he was taking his morning walk in the western city of Pune. No one has been convicted of the murder. Lankesh was a target of right-wing trolling on social media and had complained of facing “rabid hate” that made her fear for free speech in India.

Last year she was found guilty of defaming a lawmaker from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a 2008 article about alleged corruption. She was appealing against the conviction. “The murder must be investigated effectively and with urgency,” the All India Democratic Women’s Association said in a statement. Lankesh’s murder was a “grim indicator of the intolerance and violence that have been let loose by the increasing influence of right wing forces in the country”, it added.
Human Rights Watch’s South Asia director, Meenakshi Ganguly, called on politicians to “condemn violence over beliefs”. “Dissent, engaging with criticism, are strengths of a democracy, but in India, they are being drowned by allegations of causing offence to faith or nation,” she said. Journalists and activists poured into the streets of Bangalore and other Indian cities across the country to protest Lankesh’s death and demand justice. No arrests have yet been made in her murder, which Karnataka’s Chief Minister Siddaramaiah called an “assassination on democracy”.

The government of Karnataka is led by the national opposition Congress Party, but the BJP is gunning for victory in state elections due to be held next year. Siddaramaiah, who goes by only one name, told a press conference Wednesday that the state had set up a special investigation team to look into the murder. Police have recovered closed-circuit television footage from her residence, where they also reportedly found four bullet cartridges. “The CCTV camera has captured the whole incident,” Indrajit, Lankesh’s brother told reporters. “I am very confident that the culprits will be caught soon.”–AFP



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