Press Freedom

Journalists in Delhi-NCR receive identical messages threatening them with Gauri Lankesh’s fate

The messages warn that journalists critical of the Modi government, the BJP and RSS ‘will not be spared’ and will ‘be removed’.

The police in Delhi and the neighbouring township of Noida are investigating at least four complaints filed by journalists who say they have received death threats on the social messaging platform WhatsApp over the past two weeks. One journalist even received a phone call threatening him after he first got three threats via WhatsApp.

Delhi Police spokesperson Madhur Verma said that the police had lodged three complaints and registered a First Information Report in connection with one of them. Superintendent of Police (Noida City) Arun Kumar Singh said that one complaint was being investigated by the force’s cyber cell. The police are yet to identify any people in connection with these threats.

The threat messages are virtually identical, referring to journalist Gauri Lankesh, who was murdered in Bengaluru by unidentified assailants on September 5, and warning that journalists critical of the Modi government, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh “will not be spared” and will “be removed”.

Several journalists working in the Delhi-National Capital Region area have revealed that they have received these messages, but have not followed up with the police.

Multiple threats

On September 16, a journalist with The Quint started receiving several rape and death threats on various social media platforms after the website uploaded a video in which she described the lyrics of a rap song Bol Na Aunty Aau Kya as sexist and abusive.

Among the many messages the journalist received, one was unrelated to the song in question. The message, composed in Hindi, was sent to her via WhatsApp. It read:

“Why was Gauri Lankesh killed?

Gauri Lankesh was a journalist. She was killed in Bangalore by some Hindutva group. The question that arises is why would any Hindutva element kill a Hindu person.

Because Gauri used to write against the Modi government. Gauri used to write against RSS and BJP. Gauri was a traitor. She was anti-nationalist and anti-Hindu.

Now, if anyone in this country dares to write anything against Modi ji, RSS or BJP, that person will not be spared. The existence of such persons shall be removed along with the Muslims.”

The matter was reported to the Noida police, and The Quint later removed the video.

On September 21, Debobrat Ghose, working as a chief reporter with Firstpost, received the message referring to Gauri Lankesh three times from two different numbers. He went to the police after a phone call followed in which an unknown person threatened him.

Sohini Guharoy, a journalist with The Quint, said that at least two other colleagues received the threat message between September 17 and September 20. “The message is unrelated to the stories the journalists have pursued in recent time,” said Roy. She added that both the journalists had nothing to do with The Quint’s video criticising the lyrics of Bol Na Aunty Aau Kya either.

‘Number not reachable’

Some journalists who have received the threats are baffled. They say they cannot recall any reports they have worked on recently that would lead to people wanting to threaten them.

Some of them received the message from multiple numbers. A few tried to call these numbers back but got “switched off” or “out of reach” messages.

Abhay Kumar, who works with Asian News International, received one such message on September 17. The number was unreachable when he tried calling back. He did not officially complain to the police but raised the matter informally in a WhatsApp group comprising journalists and members of the Delhi Police.

A Delhi-based journalist with a news organisation received the threat message from three different phone numbers – two on September 20 evening and one the next morning. “I am quite vocal on social media but it seems unlikely that I have been targeted for any news story,” he said. “I cannot say that it is scary as contact details of journalists are easily accessible through various sources.”

The Western Uttar Pradesh correspondent for The Hindu, Mohammad Ali, received a threat from a phone number that had also been used to send a threat to the above-mentioned journalist. “I have received threats before for which I even had to move home once, in Meerut,” said Ali. “But those threats were quite specific to news stories that I had pursued. The recent one, however, is quite non-specific and random in nature.”

A senior political reporter with a news organisation was also sent the message from three different numbers on September 19. “I do not think any conclusion can be drawn on such threats at this stage,” he said. “It is possible that it is being done to malign a party or a political personality.”

The Delhi Police spokesperson said: “Anyone who receives such threats can lodge a complaint through our newly launched online forum.”

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