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India 27 November 2008

Journalist investigating drug trafficking gunned down in Bihar state

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by yesterday’s murder of Vikas Ranjan, the Hindi-language daily Hindustan’s correspondent in Samastipur district, in the northeastern state of Bihar. He had been investigating local drug trafficking during the past few weeks.

The press freedom organisation hails the progress already made by investigators but calls for sanctions against the police officers who refused to protect him although he had been receiving threats.

"Ranjan was the third Indian journalist to be murdered in the past two weeks," Reporters Without Borders said. "This sad record highlights the extent to which the safety of journalists is still not assured in some of India’s states. The local and central authorities must react and must give the police and judiciary the resources they need to identify, arrest and punish both the perpetrators and instigators of these murders."

The organisation added: "Ranjan’s murder also serves as a reminder that covering the activities of organised crime continues to be very dangerous in India, as it is Mexico or in Italy."

Ranjan, 32, was gunned down outside his office in Rosera, in Samastipur district, by three armed men who fired in the air to scare witnesses before departing on motorcycles. Ranjan died on the spot.

The Bihar regional director of Hindustan’s sister newspaper, the Hindustan Times, told Reporters Without Borders that Ranjan had been investigating drug trafficking in the area for the last month. "His family says he received threats about two weeks ago," he said. "He requested protection from the police but unfortunately did not get it."

The website said: "Ranjan wrote almost exclusively on the crime situation in Bihar thus raising the ire of the underworld dons."

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar ordered the police to investigate the murder properly and bring those responsible to trial. The person in charge of the four teams set up specially to conduct the investigation said three suspects had been identified and would probably be arrested in the next few days.

Ranjan’s relatives and fellow journalists gathered outside the hospital where he was taken and staged a spontaneous protest against the failure of the local police to take action.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has meanwhile spoke with the authorities of Assam and Manipur, the two other northeastern states where journalists have been murdered in the past two weeks, to ask them to carry out effective investigations and to protect journalists.

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