News

June 1, 2018

India: Kashmiri reporters assailed by both security forces and protesters

The young photojournalist Masarat Zehra (left) was accused of being an Indian army informer after covering a gun battle. Reporter Ahmer Khan (right) was hospitalized after being hit by shotgun pellets fired by police (photos: Masrat Zahra - Adnan Bhat).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges all parties to respect the work of journalists in northwestern India’s Kashmir Valley, where they are now being attacked by separatists at demonstrations as well as by the security forces.

Journalist are used to being targeted by the security forces ever since the conflict in the Kashmir Valley intensified in 2016. It happened against last week in Nowhatta, on the outskirts of Srinagar, when reporters went to cover the Friday prayers sermon for Ramadan in the mosque.


The police deliberately fired on reporters when they attacked protesters outside the mosque and one, photographer Ahmer Khan, was hit by shotgun pellets. He described the police assault as extremely violent.


But the violence against Kashmiri journalists is now also coming from within the ranks of those protesting against the presence of the Indian security forces. Three photojournalists were the collateral victims of clashes between activists and police in Srinagar on 5 May.


Omar Asif of the Kashmir News Service was hit on the head by stone thrown by a protester. Javed Dar, a reporter for the Chinese news agency Xinhua, was hit by a thrown brick. EPA reporter Farooq Javed Khan was hospitalized with a hand injury.


Masarat Zehra, a 24-year-old photojournalist, experienced a more insidious kind of violence two weeks before that. After a photo showing her covering a gun battle was posted online, activists accused her of being a “mukhbir” (Indian army informer) in a social network hate campaign accompanied by misogynistic insults.


“Kashmiri journalists provide an extremely challenging but absolutely fundamental service covering the events affecting the valley,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “All parties should respect their work, integrity and right to safety. It is not only wrong for the security forces to target them, but also for activists to threaten or even physically attack them. Journalists should be allowed to cover events impartially. This is an essential condition for resolving the conflict.”


There are many examples of reporters being harassed in Kashmir, especially photographers and video reporters. They include Kamran Yousuf, a photographer who was arrested in September 2017 and was held for six months. Freed on bail on 12 March, he continues to be charged with “sedition, criminal conspiracy and attempting to wage war against India.” The last of these charges carries a possible death sentence.


French documentary filmmaker Paul Comiti was arrested in December in Kashmir while there to research for a documentary, and was held for several days before finally being released.


India is ranked 138th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index, two places lower than last year.