The National Human Rights Commission on Friday issued notices to the Uttar Pradesh government and the state’s police chief in connection with the murder of a journalist in Unnao district last week allegedly over his coverage of the illegal sand mining business, PTI reported.

Shubham Tripathi, a local correspondent for the Kampu Mail, a Hindi daily, died on the spot after he was shot in the head by unidentified persons on June 19. The incident came days after Tripathi, in a Facebook post, had said he feared he could be killed by the sand mafia because of his investigations into land expropriations linked to illegal sand mining.

Taking suo motu cognisance of the murder, the human rights panel in a statement observed that media, which is considered to be the fourth pillar of a democracy, cannot be allowed to be “victimised by the anti-social elements in such a cruel manner”.

“Tripathy had been reporting about illegal sand mining in the district and had apprehended a threat to his life from them,” the statement added. “Reportedly, his opponents had also lodged a complaint against him with the district magistrate.”

The commission also directed the state government to conduct an impartial inquiry into the matter by an independent agency, preferably the state Crime Branch, Crime Investigation Department. It further asked the government to ensure the safety of Tripathi’s family and the witnesses in the case.

“The call details and other forensic evidence gathered during inquiry are to be preserved as the Commission might call them during consideration of the case,” it added. “The response is expected within four weeks.”

The human rights body observed that it is the duty of the state to provide adequate safety and security to journalists, who in the public interest, keep taking great risks to highlight the illegal activities prevailing in the society. “The death of Shubham Tripathy in this case is a matter of concern for the Commission and also an issue involving violation of human rights,” it said.

Earlier in the day, the Press Council of India also condemned the killing of the journalist and sought a report from the Uttar Pradesh government, through its chief secretary and the director general of police.

On Wednesday, media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières, also known as Reporters Without Borders, too had urged authorities in Uttar Pradesh to appoint an independent team to investigate the murder.

“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,” Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, had said in a statement. “The vicious cycle of impunity needs to be broken by means of legislation guaranteeing journalists’ safety.”

Superintendent of Police Rohan P Kanay had said that 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 had said.

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Uttar Pradesh: RSF demands inquiry into murder of journalist who exposed sand mafia