Kashmir cyber-police threaten, slap reporter who questioned their methods

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the threats and violence, including being slapped in the face, to which Kashmiri journalist Auqib Javeed was subjected during a five-hour interrogation by cyber-police in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, after writing about their intimidation of Twitter users. Such behaviour is unacceptable in a democracy, RSF says.

“I fear for my life now,” Javeed told RSF. “I believe that the authorities could go to any lengths to silence me and could arrest me on an fabricated charge.” He was clearly still in a state of shock when he spoke to RSF on 21 September and, earlier that day, he had written about his brutal treatment by the police two days before.

A member of the Srinagar cyber-police called Javeed on 18 September and asked him to come to their headquarters the next day. When Javeed asked him whether everything was all right, he replied, “We will have a cup of tea.” This is an expression that police in authoritarian Asian regimes often use when they plan to grill a journalist or dissident.

When Javeed responded to the summons the next day, he says he was, “questioned for five hours at the police station and slapped, threatened and humiliated.”

Javeed had been summoned over a story he wrote for the news site Article 14 that was published two days before. It described the methods used by the cyber-police to intimidate Twitter and other social media users. It said they were being “questioned and hectored by police and let off only after promising not to issue posts against the government and its policies.”

Phone searched, evidence erased

Police superintendent Tahir Ashraf Bhatti described the story as “fake and misleading” although it quoted him at length. Its only factual error, which was quickly corrected, concerned the building used by the cyber-police. Javeed’s phone, which was taken from him during the five-hour interrogation, was subjected to close scrutiny and all traces of his communications with the superintendent were removed.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that members of the police manhandled, threatened and intimidated a journalist who just did his job,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The behaviour of the Srinagar cyber-police is typical of authoritarian regimes and unworthy of Indian democracy. We call on the federal authorities to punish those responsible for the violence against Auqib Javeed.”

This is not the first time Javeed has been subjected to intimidation in connection with his work. The National Investigation Agency, India’s counter-terrorism police, interrogated him for three hours in July 2018 for interviewing a Kashmiri separatist leader. His phone was also taken and never returned.

Last week, RSF condemned police violence against three other journalists in Kashmir. While covering an exchange of shots between separatists and government forces on 15 September, Newsclick photographer Kamran Yousuf and reporters Faisal Bashir and Reshi Irshad were beaten by several policemen, one of them with a baton.

India is ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 24.09.2020