Reporters Sans Frontières, also known as Reporters Without Borders, on Wednesday urged authorities in Uttar Pradesh to appoint an independent team to investigate the murder of a journalist in Unnao, after he exposed a “sand mafia,” or those who illegally mine sand from riverbeds for sale to the construction industry. Three people have been arrested in connection with the case so far, according to The Wire.

A local correspondent for the Kampu Mail, a Hindi-language daily, Shubham Tripathi died on the spot after he was shot in the head by unidentified persons on June 19, the NewsClick reported. The incident came days after Tripathi, in a Facebook post, said he feared he could be killed by the “land mafia” because of his investigations into land expropriations linked to illegal sand mining. He said the mafia was angered by this action and had registered a fake application against him to the district magistrate.

Ritesh Shukla, who is the bureau chief of Kampu Mail, told the NewsClick that Shubham recently had “some arguments with land grabbers and expressed fear that he might be killed by them”. Shukla mentioned the name of a Divya Awasthi, who he said might be responsible for the killing, as did the reporter’s uncle, Dhirendra Tripathi.

“There is some government land that Divya Awasthi wanted to take possession of,” he said. “[Shubham] exposed the matter and [said] she could not do that. Her goons had attacked Shubham at his house last year after he exposed her and now have killed him.”

Superintendent of Police Rohan P Kanay said Tripathi was shot near Doodh Mandi in Ganga Ghat area in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district when he was returning home with a friend. “Teams have been formed to nab those involved in the incident,” he said.

“We call on the Uttar Pradesh authorities to appoint an independent investigation to shed all possible light on Shubham Tripathi’s horrific murder,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “In this region of northern India [Uttar Pradesh], the links between sand mafia bosses and local police chiefs mean that, when journalists are murdered in connection with their reporting, the police investigation is almost always closed without further action. The vicious cycle of impunity needs to be broken by means of legislation guaranteeing journalists’ safety.”

The International Federation of Journalists also expressed concern over Tripathi’s killing, demanding “exemplary punishment against the culprits and strong legislative measures to provide protection to journalists doing investigative journalism”.

The media watchdog’s general secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said this incident is evidence that “much more needs to be done” to protect journalists in India. “IFJ calls for the government to publicly hold those involved accountable and to strengthen support for all journalists in the country,” Bellanger added.

Attack on journalists

There have been rising instances of attack on press freedom in India, with several journalists facing investigations or being arrested recently. Earlier this month, a case was registered against journalist Vinod Dua for allegedly misreporting the communal violence that took place in the Capital in February and spreading fake news through his show on YouTube. Naveen Kumar, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader who filed the complaint against Dua also alleged that he had blamed the Centre of doing nothing to stop the violence in Northeast Delhi.

Last week, a first information report was filed by the Uttar Pradesh Police against Executive Editor Supriya Sharma, for a report on the effects of the country’s lockdown to combat the coronavirus in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency of Varanasi. The police have also named the “editor-in-chief” of in the report.

The case includes, among others, sections related to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The FIR filed on June 13 has also charged Sharma under Sections 501 and 269 of the Indian Penal Code. While the former deals with printing “defamatory matter”, the latter pertains to “negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life”. has reported the article accurately and stands by it.