At least 12 Right to Information (RTI) activists have been killed in the line of duty since last year - the latest victim being Shehla Masood of Bhopal whose death has raised a huge furore - a report said on Friday.
Titled 'RTI Activists: Sitting ducks of India', the report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) said that from January 2010 to August 2011, at least 12 activists including Masood were killed for seeking information to 'promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority' in India.
Anti-corruption campaigner Masood was shot in the neck in her car outside her home in the Koh-e-Fiza area of Bhopal on August 16 morning. Her murder shocked Madhya Pradesh and RTI activists across India.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram hinted at a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into her murder.
"Even a policeman (or auxilliary to the police) could not escape death for seeking information under the Right to Information Act, 2005. On July 25, 2010, Babbu Singh of Uttar Pradesh Home Guard was killed allegedly for seeking information about government funds and work done by his village Pradhan at Katghar village in Uttar Pradesh," Suhas Chakma of ACHR said.
"Many face serious physical assaults on a regular basis. Those who seek information from their village panchayat and other local administration also face social ostracisation. Attacks on RTI activists do not make news (anymore)," he added.
According to Chakma, RTI activists are among the most vulnerable human rights defenders.
The report recommends that the government should ammend the RTI Act and a separate chapter on protection of those seeking information should be inserted.
Issue of RTI activists' murders will be raised in Lok Sabha: Varun Gandhi
Condoning the killing of more than a dozen RTI activists in the country over the last two years, local BJP MP Varun Gandhi said he would raise the issue in the Lok Sabha soon.
"In the past two years, as many as 13 RTI activists have been murdered in the country and this issue will be raised in the Lok Sabha soon," Varun Gandhi told reporters here last night.
Varun, who is also BJP's national secretary, said all the RTI activists who were killed were not raising national issues but local ones and it seemed that the murders had taken place with the backing of police.
Lamenting that the country was lagging behind because of corruption, Varun pledged support to activist Anna Hazare, saying the Gandhian's campaign was "to save the country."
"The support to Anna Hazare has proved that people are not ready to bow down before anyone," he said.
Earlier addressing farmers at a meeting, Varun assured them that he would try his best to re-open Majhola sugar mill here and would bear the cost of the legal battle, if required.
The mill ran for 37 days in 2008-2009, seven days in 2009-2010 and has remained non-functional in 2010-2011.