On a warm Friday afternoon, September 8, Rubeena Yusuf sat in her father’s home trying to make sense of her son’s arrest by the National Investigation Agency on September 5. Her son, Kamran Yusuf, 23, is a freelance photojournalist and regular contributor to the valley’s largest circulated English daily Greater Kashmir.

On September 4, Kamran was at a makeshift office of local journalists in Pulwama town when he received a phone call from the local police station. “The police told him to come to the station as there were orders to bring him in,” said a friend of Kamran, also a journalist .

Kamran, the journalist friend said, was confident. “He said he hadn’t done anything wrong, so what would they arrest him for,” the friend said. “But he was kept overnight and the next day taken to Srinagar.”

Kamran’s friends and family came to know about his arrest by the NIA through the press, his uncle Irshad Ahmad said. “Kamran had called us that day (September 5). He told me that he had to stay in Pulwama (town) for some work and would return the next day,” Ahmad said, adding that the family took it as part of Kamran’s usual work.

The next evening, Kamran’s family was informed of his arrest by the NIA through a family member. “We went to the police station on the third day, and sought to meet him. But they told us that he had already been taken to Srinagar the day before and to Delhi that day,” Ahmad said.

Rubeena, a clerk at a rural private school, is uncertain about Kamran’s fate. “We have no idea about the NIA,” she said. Rubeena is divorced and lives with her son at their single storey house in Tahab village of Pulwama. She is now waiting on what her brother Ahmad and father decide to do.

Ahmad himself, however, was unsure. “If it was the local police, we would have known whom to approach and how to deal with this. But this is the NIA, he is not even in Kashmir. Where do we go?” he said. “We have been told to wait till September 16, for his hearing, for now.” [It turns out that Ahmad was mistaken and September 16 was actually the date till which the NIA court had ordered remand for Kamran. Ahmad was possibly referring to another court appearance after the remand expires on September 16.]

Journalist or stone-pelter?

A report in India Today said that Kamran and one Javed Ahmed Bhat from Kulgam were arrested on charges of being stone-pelters. The report quoted unnamed “sources” in the NIA as saying that “though Kamran and Javed are the lowest in the pyramid but are important players being involved in incidents of stone-pelting”.

“Kamran was not only involved but was systematically circulating videos and photos of militants to incite youth,” the report cited the same unnamed “sources” as saying.

Kamran dropped out of college in 2014 and worked with various local media houses before becoming a regular contributor for the Greater Kashmir daily. Local journalists in the district praised Kamran’s journalism. “Any kind of news, whether on development issues or militancy, he was the first to reach and report,” said a local journalist, implying Kamran was arrested for his work. “He was a headache for the police and politicians, reporting every small detail and put pressure on them for not being in control.”

Ahmad, however, said that Kamran was only doing his job. “He would go to encounter sites and upload pictures and videos online – that may have been the reason [for his arrest],” he said. “We told them [the police] that it was his job. Even the [mainstream] parties called him for coverage. It was his job to cover rallies, whether anti-India or pro-India.”

Ahmad said Kamran was only once called by the police over his involvement in stone-pelting as a minor. He was, however, let go and had maintained his distance, Ahmad added. “He is young, has little understanding. He was focussing on his work,” he said.

Disowned by Greater Kashmir

Kamran rose to popularity in southern districts of Pulwama and Shopian, during the unrest last year. Photographs taken by Kamran have been featured prominently on the pages of Greater Kashmir and his watermarked photos have often been shared widely on social media.

The newspaper, however, seems to have gone to some trouble to distance itself from Kamran. A March 2017 report by Greater Kashmir mentioned “GK lensman Kamran Yusuf” being thrashed by security forces in Pulwama. On September 6, however, the copy was edited to make it merely “photojournalist Kamran Yusuf”.

A screenshot of the report, printed onto a banner by protesting south Kashmir journalists.
Screenshot of the report accessed on September 8.

The report has since been taken down from the website. Officials from Greater Kashmir were not available for a comment.

Ahmad expressed shock over the paper’s decision. None except local journalists who knew Kamran had come forward to show solidarity, he said. “It’s the responsibility of the media to come forward,” said Irshad. “We are shocked that he was arrested as a journalist and everyone knew that. GK (Greater Kashmir) did not even mention him as a journalist. So now he is a stone-pelter [according to GK].”

Meanwhile, the paper’s decision has also evoked sharp reactions from Kashmiri journalists.

Junaid Bhat, Greater Kashmir’s photographer in north Kashmir, publicly dissociated himself from the newspaper on Facebook:

I’m JunaId Bhat from Sopore, North Kashmir and I was affiliated with the Kashmir’s leading newspaper Greater Kashmir. I was attached as a contributor for the said organisation, now after GK disowned my colleague Kamran Yousuf, I have decided to quit the organisation. So hereby I’m informing everyone that I will no longer be part of Greater Kashmir newspaper from now.

Best Regards

Junaid Bhat 
Freelancer Photographer

The incident led to anger among the journalistic community at large. Kashmiri photojournalist Altaf Qadri articulated on Facebook what many have said since the news broke.

Sameer Yasir, another journalist in Kashmir, put the blame squarely on the journalistic fraternity and the Editors Guild of Kashmir, in a Facebook post addressed to Kamran.

Muzamil Jaleel of the Indian Express, too, pointed out that “[t]aking pictures, shooting videos, being at the spot are all legitimate journalistic activities,” and that the NIA should at least make public the evidence, if any, against Kamran.

A statement issued by various press associations in the valley, including the Kashmir Press Photographers Association, after a meeting on Friday “requested the NIA to come clear on the charges being slapped on the Kamran Yousuf”.

The associations, in the meeting, have decided to hold “a joint symbolic sit-in protest”, the date for which has not been fixed yet.