Media watchdog Reporters without Borders expressed alarm on Wednesday about India, with seven journalists killed in the past 18 months and a sharp rise in online abuse and harassment.
“In 2017, the deaths of at least three journalists killed in connection with their work were recorded and a fourth case is still under investigation. In 2018, four journalists were killed in the country in the first six months,” RSF said.
“In addition, there has been a sharp increase in online abuse and harassment, and in the self-censorship which looms over the environment in which journalists carry out their work in ‘the world’s largest democracy’.”
RSF issued an “Incident Report”, an alert to warn about the deterioration of press freedom, the first time the organisation has done so for any country.
It also warned India that it risked falling even further down its World Press Freedom Index from its current place of 138th out of 180.
The latest murder of a journalist was that of Shujaat Bukhari, editor of an English language daily in the disputed region of Kashmir, gunned down outside the paper’s office on June 14.
More than 40 journalists have been killed in India since 1992, according to the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Reporters in India often face harassment and intimidation by police, politicians, bureaucrats and criminal gangs.
RSF also took the Indian government to task over online hate campaigns and harassment by “armies of trolls” associated with Hindu nationalists loyal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It cited the case of journalist Rana Ayyub being subjected to a “hellish nightmare” of online hate messages, sexist insults, faked pornographic videos and calls for her to be gang-raped and murdered.
Ayyub’s recent book “Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up” alleges government complicity in anti-Muslim violence during the 2002 riots in the western state of Gujarat when Modi was its chief minister.
Ayyub’s ordeal has also earned the Indian government criticism from the United Nations special rapporteurs.