News

December 11, 2017

India: French journalist arrested in Kashmir

Paul Comiti (left) was in Kashmir to research for a documentary about the security situation in the troubled state. The Indian part of Kashmir is riven by pro-independence demonstrations, like in Kulgam district on December 5, 2017 (right) (Photos : Kenzo Tribouillard and Tauseef Mustafa / AFP).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Paul Comiti, a French journalist and documentary filmmaker who was arrested two days ago in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, despite having complied with all the security requirements imposed by the Indian military.

The 47-year-old filmmaker, who was in Kashmir to research for a documentary about the security situation in the troubled state, was arrested late in the afternoon of 9 December in Srinagar, the state capital.


The police initially accused him of disturbing public order but later changed the charge to violating visa regulations. Paul Comiti entered India on a "business" visa, which he requested as a producer, rather than requesting a journalist visa, which is almost impossible for foreign reporters to obtain because of very stringent conditions.


He was waiting for the necessary permits, requested more than two months ago, before starting to film. He is due to appear before a judge today.


"We call for the immediate release of Paul Comiti, who did everything necessary to comply with the security requirements that the Indian government imposes on journalists wanting to report on the situation in Kashmir," said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk.


"Comiti acted in a completely transparent manner towards the Indian authorities. His arrest is clearly a pretext to stop him doing his work. But allowing the free press to cover the situation is the best way to get out of the impasse in which Indian-held Kashmir has been for more than a year."


The Indian part of Kashmir, which is mostly Muslim and is claimed by Pakistan, has been riven by a new wave of violent clashes between security forces and protesters since July 2016, when a 23-year-old activist was gunned down by soldiers. Hundreds have been killed since then.


Comiti arrived in the Kashmir Valley two weeks ago to meet with sources and update himself on the explosive situation there. He had met with military officials, separatist leaders and human rights activists. His requests to the Indian authorities include permission to film the day-to-day life of an Indian army unit stationed there.


The state of Jammu and Kashmir is virtually a no-go zone where it is extremely hard for journalists to work. Kamram Yusuf, a photo-journalist, was arrested by the Indian counter-terrorism agency on 5 September for allegedly throwing stones, a charge that his colleagues dispute. His detention was extended to 180 days last week.


The authorities have also often disconnected the Internet and 3G and 4G mobile communications, notably last spring, thereby plunging the state into a media blackout. In August 2016, RSF issued a press release condemning physical attacks on two journalists, Muneeb Ul Islam and Mir Javid.


In the rest of India, critics of the government's Kashmir policies are often accused of undermining national unity, and all the most so since Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi became prime minister.


India is ranked 136th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.