Uttar Pradesh, India – An Indian journalist was reportedly set on fire after exposing a corrupt politician in Uttar Pradesh, a state located in northern India. After accusing a cabinet minister in the state’s legislative assembly of land grabs and involvement with illegal mining, reporter Jagendra Singh was doused in petrol oil and burned alive. He died in the hospital on Monday from burns covering 60% of his body, leading to murder charges against the politician and several police officers involved.
Singh ran a small, online newspaper and published short reports on his public Facebook page. After publishing several reports on Dairy Minister Ram Murti Verma on May 30, police and other “goons” were allegedly sent to his home in Sahajahanpur.
A spokesperson for the local police claimed, “There was a case against Jagendra Singh. We tried to arrest him but he committed suicide.” They failed to identify the allegations against him.
Singh’s family maintains that he was set on fire by the government agents who came to his home. His wife said, “the inspector and others barged into the room and poured petrol on him and set him ablaze.” She alleged that he had been assaulted previously for making reports, but police ignored his complaints.
As the Times of India reported,
“Singh had written extensively about the plight of an Aganwadi worker who had told a court recently that she had been gang-raped by the minister and some of his henchmen. In his dying declaration, cops said, the journalist blamed Verma for ordering the attack and narrated how a similar attempt had been made on his life on April 28.”
Singh’s son’s account of the June 1st burning is similar to that of his wife. They “barged into our house and questioned my father about the posts. They started beating him up,” he said. “They poured petrol over him and set him on fire.”
Singh spent a week at a hospital in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, before succumbing to his injuries. Verma and four or five others have been arrested and charged with various crimes:
“Sections 302 (murder), 504 (insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 120 B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC.”
Verma is accused of ordering the attack, as Singh alleged before he died.
Currently, news organizations are reporting conflicting details. The Independent and the Guardian reported charges against six individuals—including Verma—while the Times of India reported five. Additionally, the Guardian may have incorrectly identified Verma, referring to him as “Ram Murti Singh Yadav.” The Guardian also reported that no arrests had been made, conflicting with the Times of India’s account.
Regardless of the details, it remains that a journalist was—save the flimsy excuse of suicide from authorities—murdered for exposing corruption. That a politician has the power to silence dissent with death is a sobering reminder of the dangers that come with speaking truth to power.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-profit organization, 34 journalists in India have been killed with a “motive confirmed” since 1992. In 2012, for example, a journalist and his family were murdered after he reported on corrupt police officers.
Amnesty International has demanded a thorough investigation into Singh’s death. “This horrific attack highlights the dangers that journalists can face in doing their jobs,” said Shemeer Babu, Amnesty’s program director in India.