As the Press Council of India (PCI) constituted committee has arrived in Kashmir to inquire about the allegations of intimidation and harassment of journalists, five more scribes were summoned or detained by the police.
In the past one week, journalists that have been summoned by the police and different investigative agencies include photojournalist Mukhtar Zahoor, editor Salman Shah, freelance journalist Suhail Dar, freelance journalist Sajad Gul and senior journalist Majid Hyderi.
Talking with The Kashmir Walla, Mukhtar Zahoor, who works as a stringer with BBC, said that he was picked up from his home at around 12:30 midnight on 13 October and was kept in a Ram Munshi Bagh police station all night.
“I kept asking them [police] the reason for my detention, but they didn’t give me any concrete reply,” said Zahoor.
After spending the night behind the bars, Zahoor said that in the morning, the concerned officer started questioning him about his whereabouts on 1 September – the day Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani passed away.
“They had all the information about my location on that day,” he said. “The route I took. The wifi connection of my phone that I shared with my colleagues. They specifically told me about the purpose of my presence in Sanat Nagar and Rajbagh area on that day. They also checked my phone and inquired about all the pictures in my gallery.”
Zahoor said it was around 2 pm, when he had answered all their questions, that he was finally let go.
Around 60 kilometers from Srinagar, in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, two journalists have been detained by the Jammu and Kashmir police in the last week for “questioning”.
According to the family of Salman Shah, who works as an editor of an online weekly magazine – Kashmir First, it was around 7 pm on Tuesday when a police team from Sherbagh police station came to their house and took Shah away.
“When we questioned about his detention, the police told us to visit the police station the next morning,” said Imran Shah, his elder brother.
Majid Nadeem, Station House Officer (SHO) Sherbagh police post in Anantnag, had told The Kashmir Walla that Shah was detained for “questioning”.
On 8 October, Suhail Dar, a freelance journalist, received a call from the police asking him to report to the Sadder Police station, Anantnag. As per the family, Dar went to the police station around 6 pm and has not been released since.
“They [police] are not telling us what the reason is. They have just kept him locked. At least we deserve to know the allegations [against him],” Tariq Ahmad Dar, his elder brother had said.
However, sources told The Kashmir Walla that both the journalists accused of “disturbing public peace” have been booked under 107 and 151 Indian Penal Code (IPC) and have been shifted to district jail Anantnag.
“The police had demanded eight day remand of both the journalists, however, the district magistrate has given two day remand to the police,” sources said.
Post 5 August 2019, after the Government of India (GoI) directly took control of Jammu and Kashmir by revoking its special status, as many as 50 journalists have been arrested, raided, barred from travelling while formal cases were registered against them.
After taking suo-motu cognisance of the communication of former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Mehbooba Mufti about the intimidation and harassment of journalists, the three member fact finding committee of PCI arrived in Kashmir on Thursday. They are on a three day visit to interact with the media fraternity to make a thorough probe into the allegations of harassment against the journalists into the hands of the authorities.
The members of the committee – Prakash Dubey, Convener and Group editor, Dainik Bhaskar; Gurbir Singh, Journalist, the New Indian Express and Dr. Suman Gupta, Editor, Jan Morcha – will also hold discussion with the concerned authorities before submitting its report to the council.
Senior journalist Majid Hyderi, who has a journalistic career spanning over 15 years, said that he was summoned by the Cargo [Special Operations Group of the Jammu and Kashmir police] on Wednesday about his social media activities.
“I got a call from Cargo to come to the office. Initially, I thought that the new officer had assumed charge and I may have been called for a chat,” Hyderi said.
Hyderi said as he reached the Cargo, he was asked to submit his phone outside. “I objected to giving my phone without any reason. So, I was asked to switch it off,” he said.
Hyderi said as he was waiting in a room, three men in civvies came and started questioning him about his social media posts.
“They showed me some of my social media posts related to Muharram which also included a news story from The Kashmir Walla and started inquiring about them,” Hyderi said.
“After all the questioning, I was made to wait till 5 pm before I was finally allowed to go home,” he said. “Being a journalist working from a conflict zone, we are always stuck between the devil and the deep sea. But this time one fears an even bigger threat to life.”
A senior police official privy of his questioning termed Hyderi’s summoning as “mistaken identity”.
“It was nothing of a serious matter. Hyderi was offered tea and let go,” the official said.
Speaking to The Kashmir Walla, Prakash Dubey, the PCI committee member, said that they have met more than 16 journalists on Wednesday and will continue the meetings on Friday as well to collect the information about the working condition of the journalists in the valley.
“We will also be meeting the concerned authorities either later in the evening or tomorrow afternoon. We urge all the journalist associations to come forward and submit their grievances to us,” Dubey said.
While the committee is in the valley more incidents have to light. In north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, freelance journalist Sajad Gul was called by the police after he posted a video of the slain militant Imtiyaz Ahmad Dar’s (Kakroo) family in which they alleged that their kin was killed in a “fake gunfight”.
Dar, who according to the police was affiliated with Laskhar-e-Toiba (LeT), was killed in a gunfight on 11 October in Gund Jahangir village area of Bandipora.
“Soon after the encounter, I visited the family to get their version of the incident and posted the same on my social handle. However, soon after I posted the video, I got a call from the local police station to come over,” said Gul.
Gul said after visiting the police station, the concerned officer questioned him about his body of work before he was let free.
Additional reporting by Pirzada Shakir and Shefali Rafiq