Church leaders seek justice for slain Indian journalist

Sister said he paid with his life for exposing corruption and abuses of tribal people
Church leaders seek justice for slain Indian journalist

Indian journalist Amit Topno was found murdered on Dec. 9 in eastern Jharkhand state. (Photo courtesy of family)

Catholic and other church leaders have joined journalists and rights' groups in demanding a detailed investigation into the murder of an investigative reporter – a tribal Christian – in India's eastern Jharkhand state.

The body of Amit Topno, who extensively covered a local tribal resistance movement, was found under a bridge near the state's capital, Ranchi, Dec. 9.

An autopsy found that he had been shot through the head, media reports stated.

Investigating officer Ramesh Kumar Singh called it a murder. But police had not arrested anyone as of Dec. 19.

"We want a free and fair investigation into his murder," said Father Davis Solomon, a Jesuit social worker based in Ranchi.

"He was particularly active in digging out corruption in villages of the state where his work was focused."

Topno, a member of the Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church, provided exclusive television coverage of tribal oppression through his freelance video journalism, the priest said.

The 35-year-old was part of a video volunteer group called India Unheard. His video reports dealt with bribery, illegal mining and the unjust denial of government benefits to tribal people, according to his colleagues.

"He exposed several hidden stories," one colleague from India Unheard, told ucanews.com.

"He was a brilliant journalist who always stood for public causes despite having meagre means for his sustenance."

India is one of the world's deadliest countries for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders, which ranked India 138th out of 180 nations in its 2018 press freedom index. North Korea was 180.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a volunteer group, says 48 journalists have been killed in India since 1992, when the group began keeping records. At least 33 of them were murder targets while others were killed in crossfire or on dangerous assignments, media reports said quoting CPJ records.

Topno is the seventh journalist to be killed in India this year.

Activists and colleagues say the state administration, which the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party ran until Dec. 11, was upset with Topno covering police attempts to suppress a tribal movement for autonomy.

The movement, quoting constitutional provisions, demarcated their land with stones. They claimed their freedom by rejecting the authority of the state.

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Father Solomon and some other Christian leaders were among more than 100 people, mostly journalists and social activists, who joined a procession by candle light Dec. 14 in Ranchi demanding justice for Topno.

Political activist Sushanto Mukherjee said there are plans by people concerned over Topno's case to meet the senior superintendent of police to discuss the murder.

"Given the issues Topno covered in his journalism, the case is serious and we want that probe to be carried out under the supervision of a retired judge," Mukherjee said.

Topno's younger sister, Aten Topno, told ucanews.com that her brother was a "man immersed in helping others" – so much so that he refused to marry in order to dedicate himself to village and tribal people. 

He used to video record irregularities regarding government work projects and directly went to higher authorities seeking action. 

This earned him many powerful enemies and ultimately he paid for his journalism with his life, Aten said.

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