India: Journalists in Kashmir Demand End to Police Excesses

Amin Masoodi
Srinagar, India
2017-03-17
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170317-IN-kashmir-620.jpg An Indian police officer is seen choking AFP photographer Tauseef Mustafa in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir state, March 16, 2017.
Courtesy of Mubashir Khan

A press association in Indian Kashmir on Friday demanded an end to alleged excesses committed by regional police, a day after officers allegedly assaulted at least one-half dozen photographers covering a separatist conference in Srinagar.

According to the association, at least six press photographers were injured when police roughed them up as journalists prepared to cover a joint press conference called by three separatist leaders. The conference was called off when the police stopped the separatists from addressing the media.

The Kashmir Press Photographers Association “will send a strong-worded letter to the powerful Press Council of India (PCI) on Saturday seeking its intervention in Thursday’s unprovoked police action against photo journalists performing their professional duties,” Farooq Khan, the association’s president, told BenarNews.

“We have decided to boycott police events and press conferences if action is not taken against the policemen who assaulted journalists. We have credible evidence – video footage and photographs – to identify the guilty policemen,” said Khan, who also claimed to be one of those roughed up.

A probe has been ordered into the incident, which has attracted widespread condemnation, police said.

“A senior police officer has been asked to lead the enquiry. Action will be taken against the guilty policemen after all facts have been established,” Syed Javid Mujtaba Gilani, the inspector general of police for Jammu and Kashmir state, told BenarNews.

Incidents of rights abuses and police brutality are not uncommon in militancy-ravaged Kashmir.

Claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, the Himalayan region has been grappling with a separatist insurgency that has claimed more than 70,000 lives – a majority of them civilians allegedly gunned down by security forces – since the late 1980s.

‘I could barely breathe’

“As soon as I started to click photographs of the three separatist leaders, one policeman pushed me to the side and held me by the throat. I could barely breathe,” Tauseef Mustafa, a photographer for Agence France-Presse (AFP), told BenarNews.

“The policeman abused and punched me in full view of other reporters present there while his colleagues provided him cover. He also threatened to kill me,” Mustafa said.

Mubashir Khan, a photographer for local English daily Greater Kashmir, said a policeman tried to run him over with a police jeep.

“While we were trying to help Mustafa, who was being assaulted by a cop, another policeman drove toward us in a police vehicle and drove it on my right foot. My foot remained under the tire of that heavy vehicle for nearly 30 seconds while I continued to scream in pain,” Khan told BenarNews.

Separatists call it ‘state terrorism’

Senior journalists in the disputed region described the police action as “misuse of power to muzzle the press.”

“This has unfortunately been a routine in Kashmir rather than an exception,” Kashmir Editors Guild, an association of local newspaper editors, said in a statement, adding it was “seeking a government intervention at the highest level to ensure that [the] state’s principal arm does not exhibit an abnormal growth.”

Political leaders, too, targeted the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling coalition in Indian Kashmir, over the assault on journalists.

“When the ruling ally was in opposition, it used to claim that it stood for freedom of expression. Now that it is in power, it is trying to suppress the voice of the media. If this is how the government treats journalists, you can imagine how they must treat the common people of Kashmir,” Hakim Yasin, leader of the opposing People’s Democratic Front (PDF), told BenarNews.

“Media is the fourth pillar of democracy and they have a significant role in holding the system accountable and ensuring injustice and weaknesses are highlighted. This spirit of respect for our journalists should be upheld at all costs,” Omar Abdullah, Kashmir’s former chief minister, said.

Senior separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani described the police action as “sheer state terrorism.”

“Police [are] trampling over all ethics and have turned the state into a police garrison. They have imposed restrictions on right to expression. The journalists were only performing their duties and there was no legal or moral justification to beat them,” Geelani said in a statement issued Thursday.

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