Journalist Shahid Tantray, who works for The Caravan magazine, has alleged that the Jammu and Kashmir Police have been harassing him and his family members for his reportage. He has also alleged that the police have threatened to arrest him in false cases.
In a statement published on The Caravan’s Twitter handle on Wednesday, Tantray said that the police started harassing him when he was reporting on the crackdown of journalists after August 5, 2019, when Jammu and Kashmir lost statehood and autonomy under Article 370. His report on the media crackdown, entitled “Dead Lines”, was published in The Caravan on February 1.
Tantray also said he had been harassed for his reporting of the role of the Indian Army in Kashmir. The article, entitled “False Flags”, was published in The Caravan on June 1. As the magazine tweeted out the statement, it urged the Press Council of India, the Editors Guild of India, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders to take note of the situation.
The Srinagar police have refuted the allegations. In a press release issued on Wednesday evening, they said “many prominent personalities of Srinagar” had lodged a complaint against Tantray after his “mischievous article ‘false flags’”, was published. They alleged that Tantray did not cooperate with the police inquiry on the matter.
In his statement, Tantray said that two police officers had visited his home on January 23, when he was away, and had asked his younger sister, who was alone at home, about him. The journalist asked his sister to give his phone number to the officials so that they could speak to him directly.
Tantray said he received several calls from the police that evening. The first of these was from a sub-inspector who asked him about his work and then told him that another official wanted to speak to him, the statement says.
The other police official reportedly told him that “senior officers” had asked him to make enquiries about a list of “prominent people”, on which Tantray featured.
“I was scared that these people would pick me up and harass my family for the work I was doing, and so, for the next few days, between January 23 and February 1, I stayed away from home, with friends,” Tantray said.
According to the journalist, when his February 1 article on the media crackdown came out, the police again called him asking him why it was published and if it could be removed. He said the official also asked him if the story had been submitted to the editors before or after the police had visited his home.
Tantray said he replied that it was submitted before, explaining that the article was published several days later as The Caravan is a monthly magazine.
‘Police said you cannot write freely in Kashmir’
Three days later, the statement continues, Tantray was summoned to a police station in Srinagar where officials questioned him on specific lines from the article and also asked him to reveal his sources. Those questioning him included the sub-inspector and the official earlier as well as a deputy superintendent of police, the statement says. According to Tantray, he told him he was being questioned as it was a matter of “politics”.
The journalist claimed that the deputy superintendent told him: “The current situation in Kashmir is not good” and that “this was not Europe, where you can write freely”.
He said the officer also warned him against doing what he described as “risky work”.
“The sub-inspector, on the other hand, told me that the police have several open FIRs [first information reports] to drug cases and threatened to arrest me in relation to those FIRs,” Tantray said in the statement. “He said it would be very simple to implicate me falsely.”
The journalist added the police gave him three choices – do not write anything against the government, continue writing articles that “displeased the government” in which case he “would be shot or sent to jail”, or leave Kashmir immediately.
Tantray stated that he told the officers he would leave Kashmir on February 7.
The police wanted to bring his father to the station but relented after he promised to leave Kashmir, the journalist said.
‘I was told Kashmir is a police state’
Tantray went on to state that he received a phone call from the sub-inspector in April, asking why he had tweeted about journalist Aasif Sultan being booked under Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, a preventive detention law.
Sultan had been arrested in August 2018 after police alleged that he worked for militant groups. He was held under the preventive detention law almost immediately after getting bail after three and a half years.
According to Tantray, the sub-inspector told him he had received instructions from senior officials to “deal with” him. “He also said that ‘Kashmir is a police state’,” Tantray’s statement alleges.
‘Police summoned my father’
After “False Flags” was published, Tantray said he received a call from a Srinagar corporator who had spoken to him for the article. The article spoke of the Indian Army’s role in organising “nationalistic protests” in Kashmir. Tantray claimed that he had found that the Army was creating a new generation of “politicians and power-brokers” in the Valley to project to the world that normalcy has returned to Kashmir after Article 370 was read down.
Tantray said that the corporator initally claimed not to know him. Then, the corporator reportedly accused him misquoting them, questioned the title of the article and asked why Tantray had tweeted it out. The corporator then threatened to have him jailed, Tantray said in his statement. He refuted the allegations, adding that he had notes from their interview, which were still available.
Shortly afterwards, Tantray said, an army official quoted in the piece also called him but he was not able to take the calls.
On June 4, the deputy superintended called Tantray’s father to ask where the journalist was, the statement said. According to Tantray, the official called his father again the next day and said, “Tell us in half an hour whether he will come to Kashmir or if we should send a search party to Delhi.”
Later that same night on June 5, the statement continues, Tantray and The Caravan’s political editor, Hartosh Singh Bal, sent “formal letters” to the deputy superintendent, the sub-inspector as well as top police officials in Kashmir, asking if there was an FIR or a formal complaint against the journalist.
Tantray said he also sought to know the details of the FIR or the complaint and sought a copy. The journalist said that if he was required to join the investigation, he should be sent a notice under Section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The provision stipulates a “notice of appearance before a police officer” in cases where an individual has not been arrested.
Addressing media organisations in the statement, Tantray said, “I request you also to intervene, in the interest of protecting free and fair reporting and my right to practice my profession, without fear of repercussions for myself and my family”.
Police refute allegations
According to the police press release issued hours after Tantray’s statement, the “prominent personalities” who had lodged a complaint against the journalist had voiced fears that his article was like “giving targets to terrorist groups”.
The police press release drew parallels with content put out in the “Kashmir Fight” blog. The blog, believed to have been run from Pakistan, had run smear campaigns against various journalists and activists based in Kashmir.
The press release referred to the death of veteran Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari, who was shot in 2018. The blog had targeted the journalist in a post titled, “Touts who are betraying the Kashmir struggle”, according to the Hindustan Times. In October 2020, the police had filed a first information report against the handler of the blog.
“Names of prominent personalities has been kept secret in this press note so as not to expose them to any further threat/danger,” said the police statement released on Wednesday.
Tantray was also among three journalists who were attacked by a mob in Delhi when they were reporting on communal tensions that had broken out on August 5, 2020, following the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.