Journalists in Kashmir break silence over physical attacks, harassment and summons by police

The Kashmir Press Club on Monday convened an urgent meeting to discuss physical attacks, threats, intimidation being meted out to the journalists in Kashmir by J&K Police.

The meeting in which representatives of all journalists associations took part noted with concern that from the first day since Article 370 was removed on August 5, the government is not enabling journalists and media to operate freely from the Valley.

This is evident from the prolonged six-month internet shutdown in the region since August 5. As if that was not enough, physical attacks, threats and summons to journalists are being employed by security agencies to intimidate journalists. In fact, the summons and harassment to journalists to Police’s counter-insurgency torture centre (Cargo) in Srinagar has become a routine exercise. The harassment and questioning of journalists in Kashmir on flimsy grounds by the J&K Police for their work is, in fact, a damning verdict on the appalling condition in which media is operating.

The restrictions on the internet and forcibly seeking undertakings from news organizations for allowing limited internet access, constant surveillance by police and physical attacks and summons all are the tools designed and aimed to ensure only government-promoted version is heard outside. However, the meeting today made it clear that journalists are within their rights to report about the happenings from Kashmir impartially and truthfully.

That the journalists have been harassed and are being subjected to harassment is evident by the fact that since August 5, several journalists reporting from Kashmir were summoned and questioned by police for their work.

Kashmir Press Club joined by all journalist bodies in Kashmir asked the government to stop the practice of summons and attacks on journalists. Being the Fourth Estate, they said, the government should ensure freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed in the constitution instead of muzzling the press. Viewing media as part of the problem in Kashmir and blaming journalists for everything wrong is quite misplaced.

On August 14, 2019, Irfan Amin Malik was picked up from his residence in Tral and let go the next day without any reason.

“On the 14th of August 2019, government forces barged into my house and detained me. I was kept inside the police station for a night. My family reached media facilitation centre where they along with media briefed government about my detention and then finally I was released,” said MR Irfan.

On September 1, 2019 senior journalist Peerzada Ashiq who works for The Hindu was summoned to Kothi Bagh Police Station where he was questioned and pressurized to reveal the source of his story. “I was asked to reveal my sources, who shared official data on detentions with the newspaper,” Mr. Ashiq was asked during the questioning.

In November, a freelance photojournalist Muzamil Mattoo was beaten in downtown Srinagar while covering KhojjeDigar prayers.

December 17, 2019: Two journalists, AzaanJavaid (The Print) and AneesZargar (Newsclick) were beaten up by police in full public glare in Srinagar while covering a protest. Despite assurances by the police, no action was initiated against the accused cops. They said the police officer who was part of the officials who thrashed them explicitly said “Why did you carry stories against me?” referring to stories filed earlier.

On November 30, Bashaarat Masood (Indian Express) and Hakeem Irfan (Economic Times) were summoned to Cargo where they were grilled by police officials for their stories. The duo said that they were asked to reveal their sources and how did they manage to get the documents.

On December 23, Bashaarat Masood of Indian Express and Safwat Zargar of Scroll were stopped by police at Handwara while they were on an assignment. They were taken to the office of Superintendent of Police Handwara. They were questioned about the story and told that by doing the story they are trying to provoke the situation.

Naseer Ganai, who works with Outlook magazine along with a journalist Haroon Nabi was summoned to the Cargo on February 8 where they were questioned for reporting a statement of JKLF which stands banned by the government. “I was asked to reveal email ID from which I had got the statement,” said Mr. Naseer.