India: Another Journalist Dies in Mysterious Circumstances

10 July 2015 – The death of another Indian journalist in mysterious circumstances is a worrying development, PEN International, PEN Canada, and PEN Delhi said today.

Journalist Akshay Singh, aged 38, died in Madhya Pradesh on 4 July 2015 while covering a notorious corruption scandal around admissions to medical schools known as the ‘Vyapam Scam’. According to news reports, some 45 people associated with or who have investigated the scam have died.

“What is happening in India that so many journalists are losing their lives in suspicious circumstances?” said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

“We call on the authorities to urgently investigate this and all other deaths of journalists and to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.”

Singh was taken ill while interviewing the family of Namrata Damor, a woman who had been accused of involvement in the scam, who was found dead in mysterious circumstances in January 2012.

Singh was pronounced dead after arrival in hospital. So far, no cause of death has been established, with body samples having been sent for forensic examination.

Singh’s death comes just weeks after the brutal murder of 40-year old journalist Sandeep Kothari, who was kidnapped from his home state of Madhya Pradesh on June 19, choked and set on fire. His charred body was discovered the following evening. It also comes barely a month after Uttar Pradesh journalist Jagendra Singh was set on fire, after he accused a state minister of being involved in illegal mining and land seizures in northern India. He died from his burns.

“As more journalists are murdered in the world’s largest democracy, the freedom of India’s vibrant press comes into question,’ said Tasleem Thawar, Executive Director of PEN Canada. “India must demonstrate their commitment to free speech by quickly identifying and prosecuting the perpetrators.”

“The repercussions of such incidents extend beyond individuals,” said Hartosh Singh Bal, from PEN Delhi. “Authorities need to react promptly and effectively otherwise a climate of fear can spread across the media.”

In May this year, PEN International, in partnership with PEN Canada and the International Human rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law released a ground-breaking report – Imposing Silence: The Use of India’s Laws to Suppress Free Speech –  documenting ways in which India’s laws fail to protect freedom of speech.

India ranked 136 out of 180 nations in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index, according to Reporters without Borders.

To read the report click here.