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  Asia-Pacific
Scribe's Killing in Northeast: Demand for Punishing Perpetrators
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
Protest by journalists

November was the horrifying month for the media fraternity of Northeast India, when they had lost two young reporters to miscreants' bullets during the month. The first case was reported in Manipur, where unidentified gunmen killed Konsam Rishikanta, 22, a trainee sub-editor of The Imphal Free Press, an English daily of the State in Imphal on November 17, 2008. The same week witnessed the murder of Jagajit Saikia, a correspondent for Amar Asom, a leading Assamese daily published from Guwahati. Shot at and killed in broad day light on November 22 at Kokrajhar, the head quarter of Bodoland Territorial (Autonomous District) Council in lower Assam, Jagajit, 30, left behind his wife, a minor daughter and his parents.

Meanwhile, the media persons under the banners of All Manipur Working Journalists' Union and Journalists' Action Committee, Assam had taken the path of agitation demanding the prompt actions and punish the culprits. The Manipur journalists' body went for a four-day strike by all Imphal-based daily newspapers and local channels in protest against the killing. They also met the Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh and demanded justice. The trouble torn Manipur has lost five editor-journalists to miscreants' attack since 1993.

On the other hand, the media persons in Assam condemned the killings in strongest words and engaged national and international media bodies for pursuing the investigation and security for the working journalists in the region. More over, Assam journalists sent a memorandum to the Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil asking her intervention on the process. The memorandum revealed that at least 20 editor-journalists were killed in Assam during the last 17 years and surprisingly enough not a single perpetrator of these heinous crimes was booked under the law.

The journalists' body also organized a massive protest rally on the premises of Guwahati Press Club on November 25, which was addressed by Kanaksen Deka (editor of Dainik Agradoot and President of Asom Sahitya Sabha), Ajit Kumar Bhuyan (editor of Asomiya Pratidin), Adip Kumar Phukan (editor of Edinar Sangbad), GL Agarwala (editor of Purbanchal Prahari and owner Amar Asom), Prashanta Rajguru (executive editor of Amar Asom), Dileep Chandan (editor of Asom Bani), Hiten Mahanta (senior journalist) with many others.

Soon after the meeting, which was presided over by Bhupen Bhattacharya (editor of Asomiya Purboday), hundreds scribes and other attendants joined in a procession to the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup (Metro) to hand over the memorandum to the President. But shockingly the DC did not come out to receive it, which annoyed the journalists and tempted to stage a brief demonstration in front his office. Later the memorandum, signed by the president Sanjib Phukan and secretary Prakash Mahanta of the organization, was sent directly to the office of the President. In the meantime, Editors Guild of India expressed shock at the killing of scribes in Manipur and Assam and appealed the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh 'to take personal interest in the situation' and if necessary, order a CBI investigation into the murder of journalists.

The editor's national forum in a statement said, "The Editors Guild has noted with increasing dismay the spate of violent incidents involving journalists in the north-east and has brought this to the notice of the union home ministry. We hope that concerted action will be taken to ensure the safety and security of journalists." The Guild president, Rajdeep Sardesai later personally met the Prime Minister to apprise him about the situation in Northeast. Rajdeep, also the editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, while talking to this writer, informed that Prime Minister Singh expressed concern over the recent killings of journalists and asked both the chief ministers of Assam and Manipur for prompt investigation into the incidents. He also recommended for adequate measures to ensure the security and safety of all journalists and newsmen in the region, Rajdeep added.

Facing the heat, the Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi announced an ex-gratia grant of Rs three hundred thousand for the family of Jagajit after three days of the incident. Gogoi also assured that the government would take the responsibility of Jagajit´s daughter. The chief minister also declared that the culprits would be arrested and appropriate punishment would be given to them. The Paris based media rights body, Reporters Without Borders also expressed shock at the assassination and asked 'the authorities in New Delhi to order the Central Bureau of Investigation to carry out an exhaustive investigation to determine the motives and arrest those responsible.'

The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists also mourned the loss of Jagajit. The CPJ's Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz, while raising voice for 'thoroughly and transparently' investigating Jagajit's killing, also added, "Local governments in India's northeast should make journalists' security a priority to enable publication of
essential news about local conflicts."

"It has been a grim year for journalists across the world. So far in 2008, at least 36 journalists have been murdered and another 17 are missing or unconfirmed as to whether they died on the job. Across Asia, two each were killed in Thailand, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, four in Pakistan and at least three in India," CPJ reported recently. International Federation of Journalists, press clubs of Kolkata, Agartala, Gangtok, Shillong, Itanagar and Imphal, Journalists' Forum, Assam, All Assam Photo Journalists Association, Assam Press Correspondents' Union, North East Media Forum (a body of New Delhi-based Northeastern Journalists) with a number of journalists organizations, student organizations, civil society groups and various political parties also condemned the killings and demanded punishments
to the perpetrators.



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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at navathakuria@gmail.com

 

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