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Journalist Under Police Protection After Shooting in India

FILE - A commuter reads a newspaper outside a metro station in Kochi, Kerala state, India, Aug. 5, 2021. India is one of the most dangerous countries for media, according to Reporters Without Borders.
FILE - A commuter reads a newspaper outside a metro station in Kochi, Kerala state, India, Aug. 5, 2021. India is one of the most dangerous countries for media, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Shot by an unidentified assailant and left bleeding on the street, Indian journalist Devendra Khare considers himself lucky to have escaped with his life.

The Uttar Pradesh correspondent for News1India had been talking with friends outside his office on February 26 when two men on a motorbike pulled up next to them. One of them opened fire.

Khare suffered gunshot wounds to his stomach and right hand, and says he is now under police protection.

Beh Lih Yi of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told VOA that the attack on Khare underscores the precarious conditions for local journalists in India.

At least three have been killed since 2022; journalists are regularly attacked or threatened; and media offices including the BBC have been raided.

Shooting comes after report

A journalist for more than two decades, Khare told VOA he has never been attacked in this way before.

In Khare's police complaint, he named Rituraj Singh as allegedly being involved. Singh is the brother of Pushpraj Singh, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Jaunpur district.

Just a few days before the shooting, Khare had reported on Rituraj Singh’s alleged involvement in an assault.

Khare told VOA that Singh’s associates had pressured him to retract the story.

“Rituraj’s associates warned me not to report the incident,” Khare said, adding that he believes the attack on him may be related.

VOA was unable to find contact details for Rituraj Singh.

VOA contacted the BJP state office via email to ask for comment and more information, but as of publication had not received a response.

But Pushpraj Singh was cited in local media denying the allegations against his brother.

“This is a big conspiracy against me. I am the district president of BJP. My detractors are unable to find any reason to target me and are hence, finding ways to target my family,” Pushpraj Singh said.

Narrow escape

On the day he was attacked, Khare had just left his office in Jaunpur.

“I was talking with other journalists outside my office,” he recalled. “Suddenly, two men on a bike pulled up near us, and one of them, covering his face with a piece of cloth, approached us and fired a pistol at me.”

One of the bullets hit Khare’s mobile phone before striking him.

“The bullet hit my right-hand finger, which was holding my cell phone, but luckily, the phone stopped the bullet.”

A second bullet missed him narrowly, and Khare fell to the ground. He believes the assailant may have assumed “he had hit me as I was bleeding profusely.”

A shopkeeper saw the attack and tried to stop it, throwing a stone at the gunman who fired back, Khare said. Fortunately, the gunman missed. “The attacker fled the scene, firing a few more shots in the air.”

Khare said that his condition is stable and that he now has police protection.

“I have complete faith in the police and judiciary of Uttar Pradesh,” he told VOA.

'Worrying pattern of attacks'

CPJ’s Beh said she hopes that state police “swiftly hold the perpetrators accountable and take action to guarantee the safety of journalists under threat.”

In an email to VOA, Beh said the CPJ has documented several cases in India recently, “ranging from censorship to raids at the BBC offices and the killing of journalist Shashikant Warishe, who reported on a land dispute.”

If India doesn’t act on these issues, she said, it will be “sending the wrong signal to the world in the year that the country chairs the G20.”

“India must realize a free press is the foundation of a functioning democracy and stop treating journalism as a crime,” she said.

India is one of the most dangerous countries for media, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

“Journalists are exposed to all kinds of physical violence including police violence, ambushes by political activists, and deadly reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt local officials,” says the media watchdog’s country assessment.

On the RSF press freedom rankings, India ranks 150 out of 180 countries, where 1 has the best media environment.

Tim Crook, who is chair of the professional practices board of the Chartered Institute of Journalists in Britain, told VOA that the attack on Khare is “an example of an extremely worrying pattern of attacks on journalists” in India.

“The reputation of India’s democracy will depend on the engagement of a robust, independent and effective investigation of such intimidation and attacks on working journalists and bring those responsible to justice,” Crook said via email.

In Khare’s case, the violent attack left him undeterred. “I will not give in to these assaults and [will] continue my work as a journalist and report the truth,” he told VOA.