Nine Indian journalists are facing criminal cases, including charges of sedition, for reporting that Delhi police fatally shot a farmer in the head during violent protests last week, despite the authority’s denial of any shooting incident.
Uttar Pradesh farmer Navreet Singh, 25, died during the protests in Delhi on January 26, India’s Republic Day when he drove a tractor through a police barricade.
Clashes broke out between police and farmers when thousands of protesters, who are calling for the repeal of controversial new agriculture laws, burst through barriers into the city centre – many on tractors and horseback – and stormed the historic Red Fort.
Delhi police claimed Singh was among those who had used a tractor to plough through police barriers, died in an accident when his tractor overturned.
However, photographic and video footage of Singh’s body, as well as the postmortem report, indicate he suffered an injury consistent with at least one fatal gunshot wound through the head, according to doctors who reviewed the evidence.
Witnesses filmed at the scene, and Singh’s family, who examined his dead body, alleged Singh died after police shot at him as he drove his tractor through the barriers. They say Singh’s tractor only overturned after he was hit with a bullet.
Dr. Basil Purdue, a pathologist registered with the UK Home Office who examined the video footage and postmortem, said: “To me this is one gunshot wound, possibly two, unless proved otherwise.”
He added it was extremely implausible that Singh died from an overturned tractor. “You cannot get these injuries from a fall,” he said.
Farmers at the scene were the first to allege Singh had been hit with a bullet. A video by a local Punjabi TV station obtained by the Guardian shows the immediate chaotic aftermath, with those at the scene describing what they had witnessed.
“Those policemen have shot him, shot on face, he is instantly killed,” says one woman, while a man adds: “First he was shot, then the tractor overturned.” A young Sikh farmer then identifies Singh: “Navreet is the name of this boy. He has been shot in the head.”
Shortly after the allegations emerged, the police released video footage from the protests they claimed proved Singh had died after falling from his tractor that overturned as it hit a barrier. They also told Indian media that the postmortem made no mention of a gunshot and the official cause of death was “shock and a haemorrhage” from a head injury.
However, Hardip Singh Dibdiba, Singh’s grandfather, alleged the gunshot was covered up in the postmortem, which was carried out in Rampur, in Uttar Pradesh.
“At the hospital, one doctor told me that my grandson was hit by gunshot, but said they could not write that a bullet killed him,” said Dibdiba.
The family also alleged that the hospital denied them access to X-rays that were taken of Singh’s body during the postmortem. The chief medical officer of Rampur, Dr. Sanjeev Yadav, told the Guardian he would not discuss the family’s allegations.
Delhi police did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.
Attempts by the Indian media to report the story have faced a draconian crackdown. Nine journalists who published stories on the gunshot allegations or tweeted mention of them have had criminal cases, including on charges of sedition, filed against them in five states.
Opposition politician Shashi Tharoor is also facing charges of sedition for tweeting about the allegations.
Among those facing charges are Vinod Jose, the editor of longform current affairs magazine Caravan and Siddharth Varadarajan, the editor of TheWire.in, an independent online news portal.
“This case against me is ridiculous and will not stand but what the government really wants to ensure is that the dead man’s family does not repeat its claims and questions and is silenced,” said Varadarajan.
Kanwardeep Singh, a journalist from Times of India, alleged that since he published a story about the allegations, he had been threatened through social media, calls and texts and that his phone had been put under surveillance
“Messages are being sent through senior journalists that either I stop writing and stay safe or be ready to live my remaining life behind the bars,” he said. “I am aware that the government may attempt to harm me or my family to any extent but I will continue to investigate.” (Source: The Guardian)