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Journalist killing: SC issues notice to Center and UP govt

Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to the central and the Uttar Pradesh governments on a plea for a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the killing of journalist Jagendra Singh allegedly at the behest of state Minister Ram Murti Verma.

A vacation bench comprising Justices M.Y. Eqbal and Arun Mishra issued the notice on a public interest litigation (PIL) after senior counsel Adish C. Aggarwala urged the court to direct the CBI to probe the case.

The notice has also been issued to the Press Council of India. All three have to respond within two weeks.

The petitioner S. Jain urged the court to frame guidelines and issue directions that in the case of an unnatural death of a journalist, the investigation should be monitored by the district and sessions judge.

Jagendra Singh, a Saharanpur-based journalist, was doused with kerosene and allegedly set on fire by some Uttar Pradesh police personnel after a raid at his residence. He died of burn injuries on June 8.

Jagendra Singh had allegedly earned the wrath of Minister Verma for posting the his alleged illegal mining and land grabbing activities on his Facebook page.

The PIL petitioner said Jagendra Singh apprehended danger to his life from Verma and said so on his Facebook on May 22.

“Inspite of all the evidence, no arrest has been made by the state police and there is every likelihood of destruction of evidence by them”, the PIL said.

Saying this was no isolated incident, the PIL petitioner said the “security of Indian journalists has long been compromised, particularly in small towns where the local authorities can wield enormous power”.

The PIL quoted a Press Council of India report which said 79 journalists were murdered in the country in the last two-and-a-half years. The record of conviction has been dismal.

Telling the court that India was most dangerous country for journalists after Iraq, the Philippines, Pakistan and Mexico, the PIL said the Britain-based International News Safety Institute has put the number of journalists killed in India at 69 between 2004 and 2014.

The PIL said Paris-based ‘Reporters Without Borders’ ranked India at 136 out of 180 nations in a 2015 World Press freedom Index.

A free and independent press was one of the pillars of democracy, and Jagendra Singh’s murder was an “attack on the freedom of press and attack on Indian democracy”, the petitioner said.

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