“Rights violated, no press freedom here”: Kashmiri journalists covering rural areas

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Amid the continued incidents of attacks on journalists and the curbing of the free press in Jammu and Kashmir, The Kashmir Walla spoke to three journalists about their experiences while reporting from different parts of Kashmir — besides the capital Srinagar.

Qayoom Khan, CNN News 18

Pulwama

Everyone here knows what happened to journalists in Kashmir. I had once gone for reporting to the Hakripora area with my colleague. Our equipment and mobile phones were seized by the police and we were detained for about six hours. The police asked us about how we get information to reach the spot of an incident. They also deleted the entire footage from our cameras before returning our phones and cameras at 9 pm. Such incidents happen often. Whenever we are covering any gunfight, the police try to stop us. On the other hand, we have a big problem with internet shutdown. Whenever there is any gunfight ongoing here, they shut the internet and that becomes a problem for us.

It’s very difficult to work as a journalist. The police call us for questioning whenever we do any story, they ask us about our sources and the people quoted in our stories. As a journalist, our rights are being violated here and there is no freedom of the press here. There is self-censorship, otherwise, we come on the police’s radar. They enquire about who has done a certain story and whenever they get the chance, they beat that journalist. The local Station House Officers tell journalists that they shouldn’t have done this or that story, this has a psychological effect on us. You must know about the Anantnag incident where three journalists were beaten by a senior officer. What can I say?

The Kashmir Press Club carries a statement when such incidents occur but that doesn’t help. The KPC is useless. What actions are taken even if the KPC issues a statement? It isn’t a support system for journalists. If it was, then harassment of journalists should have stopped. Journalists should be able to work freely as they do in other places. When I do any story, I feel scared for a few days, thinking what if the police call me or anything. At least the journalists from Srinagar are safe to some extent; we are more often summoned by the police.

Fayaz Ahmad Lolu,  Reporter with ETV,

Anantnag

I have been in this profession for two decades. I have often been beaten by the paramilitary, Army, Police, and even by local residents. Earlier, if a junior officer would beat us, we would complain to a senior officer and they would apologize and tell us that the harassment won’t be repeated but today it still continues. We can’t even trust a common man in a protest rally because they don’t completely understand the laws and the reasons for all the things happening around him. But the one who is the protector of laws — you don’t expect them to break the law. My mother often asks me to quit the job because the repercussions scare her. Sometimes, my reporting scares me as well.

As I said, when a junior officer used to beat us we used to go to a senior officer but after what happened to my colleagues and me at Anantnag during the elections. (On 10 December, the government forces allegedly beat up three journalists, in Anantnag while they were covering the fifth phase of the District Development Council (DDC) polling, The Kashmir Walla had reported then.) I feel bad. I didn’t expect this from a Senior Superintendent of Police [Sandeep Choudhary]. Earlier, at least a senior officer would listen to us but he [Choudhary] didn’t. He came out of his vehicle and started beating us in full public view. All this makes me think that I should leave this profession. We don’t have anybody to go to for complaining against these officers.

The KPC supported us at that time, they talked to several officers and after the pressure was created on them, we were freed. They gave us our equipment after checking the footage. We hadn’t done anything. I think we should at least have our own lawyer so our voices will be heard. Our forum of journalists should be strong. They should come under any kind of pressure. Whoever raises their voice, their voices are suppressed. They didn’t even spare the big journalists, who am I then? I am nobody. I stay silent.

Peerzada Waseem, Kashmir News Observer, 

Baramulla

Harassment often happens with journalists but for some time, I haven’t really faced any such harassment. We are working smoothly and have no complaints. When Article 370 was abrogated last year, journalists faced so many hindrances that I can’t even explain. It’s hard to work on the ground. We face problems from everywhere, be it from security forces or people or agencies. I think almost every journalist used to get a call because of a certain story. We used to be told not to do this or that story by the government forces.

At the site of gunfights, when we click pictures or record the incident, government forces say a few things to us out of anger. That’s what we face at that time. First of all, even the forces personnel themselves are not safe here but at least they have equipment that they can use to protect themselves. We don’t have anything. We have to assess what’s good and what’s not for us and work accordingly. If we go to cover a gunfight, we are careful of the photos we take there. Sometimes, when the photos are uploaded after an encounter, journalists receive calls from the forces to delete photographs.

I always feel scared, we all do. We write what is good for us, which keeps us safe. We have to protect ourselves first. We are not also affiliated with the KPC. First of all, the KPC won’t come to help us in such situations. I have been to jail many times because of reporting. I was summoned by the Cyber Police in March because of my tweet. I gave them in writing that I won’t make any mistakes from now on. Then there was an issue with Masrat Zahra, Peerzada Aashiq, and Gowher Geelani. They summoned many journalists after them. We are insecure in the field.

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