Two Indian reporters shot dead in less than 24 hours

Gunmen shot dead two journalists in 24 hours in separate incidents in eastern India, police and local reports said Saturday, the latest media killing in Asia's deadliest country for reporters.

Rajdeo Ranjan the local bureau chief for Hindi-language daily Hindustan, was travelling on his motorcycle late Friday in Bihar state when a group of unknown assailants shot him five times.

"He was shot from very close range. We rushed him to a hospital where he was declared dead on arrival last night," local Siwan district police chief, Saurabh Kumar Sah, told AFP by telephone.

Sah said police were yet to ascertain the motive behind the killing, but two people have been detained for questioning.

"We are focusing more on the professional angle since he may have written some things about certain people, which may have led to this," he said.

Television footage showed villagers collecting firewood to prepare Ranjan's funeral pyre as family members and women sat on the ground wailing, holding their heads in their hands.

Late on Thursday, television journalist Akhilesh Pratap Singh was also shot dead by unknown assailants as he returned home on a motorbike in restive Jharkhand state, which neighbours Bihar, according to local reports.

"We have no eyewitnesses yet. But we suspect that the assailants too were on motorcycle," the Indian Express newspaper quoted Upendra Prasad, a senior state police official, as saying.

"It is not immediately clear if the journalist had (received) any threat from anybody."

Singh's family members and supporters held a protest Friday, blocking roads and demanding compensation and swift police action against the perpetrators.

India was Asia's deadliest country for journalists in 2015, according to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

It is also one of the most restrictive countries for the press, ranked 133 out of 180 nations by the group.

Journalists in the world's largest democracy often face harassment and intimidation by police, politicians, bureaucrats and criminal gangs, while scores work in hostile conditions in conflict-ridden pockets of the country.

In October gunmen on a motorbike shot dead a television journalist in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh as he returned home from a market.

A freelance reporter also died after being doused with petrol and set on fire in Uttar Pradesh in June.