Kashmiri journalists have accused the Jammu and Kashmir government and the police of harassing and intimidating them since August last year.
Kashmir Press Club, a representative body of journalists in Kashmir valley, on Monday accused the police and government in Jammu and Kashmir of not allowing scribes to work freely and cited multiple cases of “harassment and summons” by police since August 5, 2019 when the erstwhile state’s special status was revoked.
On Monday, the club convened an urgent meeting two days after two journalists, Naseer Ganai of Outlook magazine and a local journalist Haroon Nabi, were summoned by police on Saturday and questioned for reporting a statement of the banned separatist organisation Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).
In a statement, it said the meeting was convened 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 first day since Article 370 was removed on August 5, the government is not enabling journalists and media to operate freely from the Valley,” it said.
“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,” it said.
Calls to government spokesman Rohit Kansal and Director General of Police Dilbag Singh did not elicit any response.
The press body further said that the harassment and questioning of journalists in Kashmir on “flimsy grounds” by the J and K Police for their work is a “damning verdict on the appalling condition in which media is operating”.
“The restrictions on 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,” it said.
It has been now six months that high speed internet was suspended in Kashmir. Last month low speed mobile internet was restored with access to just some 400-500 government approved websites.
Monday’s meeting made it clear that journalists are within their rights to report about the happenings from Kashmir impartially and truthfully.
Kashmir Press Club is a representative body of journalists in Kashmir with over 250 members from various associations of editors, reporters, and photo and video journalists.
Besides citing the summons to Ganai and Nabi on Saturday, the body cited seven more cases to support its claims of harassment and attacks on journalists by security forces.
“I was asked to reveal email ID from which I had got the statement,” the KPC quoted Ganai as saying about the police questioning of JKLF story.
The club said that on December 23, Bashaarat Masood of Indian Express and Safwat Zargar of Scroll were stopped by police at Handwara in north Kashmir 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,” the KPC said.
On December 17, two journalists, Azaan Javaid (The Print) and Anees Zargar (Newsclick) were beaten up by the police in full public glare in Srinagar while covering a protest. Despite assurances by the police, no action was initiated against the accused cops, the body said.
On November 30, Hakeem Irfan (Economic Times) and Bashaarat Masood (Indian Express) were summoned to Cargo (a former interrogation centre) where they were grilled by police officials for their stories. “The duo said that they were asked to reveal their sources and how they managed to get the documents,” it said.
The body said that in November, a freelance photojournalist Muzamil Mattoo was beaten in downtown Srinagar while covering Khoje Digar prayers.
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 source of his story. “I was asked to reveal my sources who shared official data on detentions with the newspaper,” the body quoted Ashiq saying.
On August 14, 2019, Irfan Amin Malik was picked up from his residence in Tral and released the next day.
The Kashmir Press Club also asked the government to stop practice of summons and attacks on journalists.
“…the government should ensure freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed in the Constitution instead of muzzling the press. Viewing media as part of problem in Kashmir and blaming journalists for everything wrong is quite misplaced,” it said.