The Kashmir Press Club on Thursday expressed concern over the police summoning journalists in the Valley and urged the “highest authorities in the administration” to look into these issues so that media persons are provided a conducive atmosphere to work.
The cyber cell of the Kashmir Police on Wednesday summoned The Kashmir Walla’s Founding Editor Fahad Shah in connection with his reportage on the Srinagar gunfight. On Tuesday, two Hizbul Mujahideen militants, including the son of a separatist leader, were killed in a gunfight between security forces and militants in the Nawakadal area of Srinagar. The gunfight left destruction in its wake, with several houses being razed to the ground, burnt or partially damaged.
Shah and his colleague had reported on the destruction of the homes. In their report, many people had accused the security forces of stealing their jewellery, money and other items.
In his statement, Shah said that he reached the police station at 1.30 pm on Wednesday and was not informed about the reason for being summoned for the next two hours. “At 3.34 pm a senior official led me to another room in the police station where five other police officials, including senior officials, were present,” he added.
Shah said that the officials objected to the coverage of the aftermath of the Nawakadal gunfight and accused him of “maligning the police’s reputation”.
In his response, the editor said that the reports published were interviews of local residents, on camera, whose houses had been burned. “If the police differed with the allegations of the local residents, we would have given equal space to the same in our report as a professional journalist. However, no such clarification was given,” Shah’s statement read.
The organisation noted that in earlier incidents also journalists have been similarly summoned by the police for their stories. “The KPC has condemned all such incidents and has noted that such summons and FIRs are aimed at harassing and intimidating the journalists and thus are a clear violation of the press freedom,” the press club said.
On April 21, the cyber police issued a statement that it had filed a case against freelance journalist Gowhar Geelani for “unlawful activities” on social media, threatening national security and sovereignty, “glorifying terrorism”, “causing disaffection against the country”. It also claimed to have received complaints accusing Geelani of threat and intimidation.
On April 18, freelance photojournalist Masrat Zahra was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, a law normally used against those allegedly involved in acts of terror. The police said that Zahra, a freelance photojournalist who reports mostly about women and children in conflict, uploaded photographs that could “provoke the public to disturb law and order”.
Over the same weekend, the police filed a first information report against an alleged fake news item about a gunfight between police and militants in South Kashmir and subsequent developments published in The Hindu. Details of the report were “factually incorrect”, could “cause fear or alarm” and had not been confirmed with district authorities, they said. The reporter Peerzada Ashiq told the Committee to Protect Journalist that he had records to show he had reached out to the authorities for comment.
On April 17, Mushtaq Ganaie, a journalist for the Kashmir Observer in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, was detained for two days and booked for “creating hurdles in a police officer’s duty”. His offence: travelling around and trying to report during the coronavirus lockdown.
India has steadily fallen on the World Press Freedom Index, dropping to 142nd place in the latest 2020 survey. Kashmir’s long “electronic curfew” is cited as one of the reasons for this deterioration.