Journalist shot and killed in Assam

Indian journalist Jagjit Saikia, a district correspondent for the daily newspaper Amar Asom, was shot dead in the northeastern Indian state of Assam Saturday.

It has been a grim year for journalists across the world and a reminder that in some countries the practice of journalism can be dangerous. 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, according to the Committee to protect Journalists.

While that is a bloody toll, it is down considerably from 2007, when at least 65 journalists died on the job, the highest death toll since 1994, when 66 died amid conflicts in Algeria, Bosnia and Rwanda, according to CPJ. Iraq in 2007 led the world for the fifth straight year, with 32 killed. Somalia was second with seven. The press advocacy organization was investigating another 23 deaths in to attempt to determine if they were related to their jobs in journalism. As the Iraq war has wound down, the total of journalists murdered there in 2008 has fallen to a still high 10, with two more murdered but it is unclear if their deaths were related to their jobs.

The latest before Saika to die was 34-year-old Radio Okapi journalist Didace Namujimbo, who was shot in the neck on November 21.2008 in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was the second Radio Okapi journalist to die and the sixth to be killed in the Congo.

Unidentified assailants shot Saikia several times at point blank-range near his office in the town of Kokrajhar, according to news reports. Nava Thakuria, the Asia Sentinel’s correspondent in Assam and secretary of the Guwahati Press Club, said doctors had declared Saikia dead from at least five gunshot wounds to the chest, according to local news reports.

Police are investigating the killing and no arrests have been made, according to local news reports. But Thakuria said local journalists believe Saikia may have been targeted because of his reporting. Saikia frequently wrote about rivalries between armed groups and political organizations fighting over control of Kokrajhar and the neighboring western districts of Assam that are ethnically Bodo, Thakuria said.

Insurgents have advocated, at times violently, for a separate Bodo state despite ongoing peace negotiations with the central Indian government, according to published reports.

"Police in Assam must thoroughly and transparently investigate Jagjit Saikia's killing," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia Program Coordinator. "Local governments in India's northeast should make journalists' security a priority to enable publication of essential news about local conflicts."

In the neighboring northeastern state of Manipur, dailies in the capital, Imphal, have ceased publication in protest since Imphal Free Press sub-editor Konsam Rishikanta was shot and killed on November 17. No group has claimed responsibility for the killing. The strike by local newspapers is intended to draw attention to the security threats faced by local journalists, according to the All Manipur Working Journalists Union.

In a telephone interview last week, Imphal Free Press editor Pradip Phanjoubam told CPJ that he did not believe Rishikanta was shot because of his work at the newspaper. But the murder of a colleague carrying a press card in close proximity to security checkpoints was of grave concern to the local media community, Phanjoubam said.

Journalists in Manipur are vulnerable to pressure from both local insurgent groups and state officials seeking to publish their respective viewpoints, according to CPJ research.