India: Odisha journalist killed in IED explosion

Rohit Biswal, a reporter based in Odisha, was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) allegedly planted by Maoist insurgents on February 5. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Indian affiliate, the National Union of Journalists, India (NUJ-I), condemn the continued violence against journalists in India and urge the Indian authorities to expedite their investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Journalist Rohit Biswal. Credit: Twitter

Biswal, a resident of Madanpur-Rampur town in the Kalahandi district, had travelled to the Damba Karlakhunta area to investigate reports of posters placed by members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), asking locals to boycott the upcoming three-tier Panchayat election.

According to Odisha police, the journalist was killed instantly when the IED, allegedly placed to injure police personnel, detonated after Biswal took photographs and approached the posters.

“State-sponsored violence is being inflicted in the garb of elections. Everyone should boycott the election. The CRPF units should be withdrawn from the area. The rights of land-dwellers should be settled”, the posters read. Odisha’s State Election Commissioner (SEC) had called the Panchayat election for February 16, 2022.

In a statement on Twitter, Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha, expressed his condolences to Biswal’s family and said, “The government strongly condemns the Maoist violence and will take immediate action against all those involved.”

Kalahandi Police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have begun investigating the journalist’s death. Following the incident, the Odisha government announced a financial support package of Rs 13 lakh (approximately USD 17,407) for the family of the deceased journalist.

Biswal is the first journalist to be killed in India in 2022. According to the IFJ’s killed list, four Indian journalists, Sulabh Srivastava, Chenna Kesavulu, Raman Kashyap and Budhinath Jha, were killed for their work during 2021.

The NUJ- I President, Ras Bihari, said: “NUJ-I appeals Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to provide proper protection to journalists working in Mao-infested areas. We also urge for the  enactment of the Journalist Protection Act in the country.”

The IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said: “The death of Rohit Biswal is yet another example of the lack of safety and protection for journalists in India, exposed to life-threatening situations and killed as collateral damage. The Indian Government must do more to safeguard the lives of journalists and media workers. The IFJ calls for a swift investigation into the case to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.”

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