News

April 23, 2020

Indian police campaign of harassment of journalists in Kashmir

The First Information Reports filed by the police against Masrat Zahra (left), Peerzada Ashiq (center) and Gowhar Geelani are tantamount to judicial harassment (photos: @Peoplesvoice01 - RSF - @GowharGeelani).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns a campaign of harassment of journalists in Srinagar, the capital of the northern Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir, where the police have brought criminal accusations against three journalists in as many days. These accusations are designed to intimidate all journalists in Srinagar and must be withdrawn at once, RSF said.

The latest target is Gowhar Geelani, a well-known writer and columnist who works with many media outlets including the BBC and the India websites DailyO and Scroll.in. In a statement issued on 21 April, the Srinagar cyber-police said he was being investigated for “glorifying terrorism in the Kashmir Valley” in online posts.

 

When reached by RSF on the evening of 22 April, Geelani said he had not yet received a copy of the complaint against him. The police have also not said which law he is alleged to have violated.

 

Peerzada Ashiq, a Kashmiri reporter who is the Srinagar correspondent of The Hindu newspaper, was accused by the police on 20 April of reporting details in a news item that “were factually incorrect and could cause fear or alarm in the minds of the public.” Here again, the accusation did not cite the law that was allegedly violated.

 

RSF already mentioned the charge against Ashiq when it reported that freelance photojournalist Masrat Zahra had been summoned the same day by the Srinagar branch of the National Investigation Agency (India’s counter-terrorism police) for questioning about allegations that she had been “glorifying anti-national activities.”

 

Contempt

 

“The almost simultaneous opening of three investigations reflects a deliberate desire by the Indian police to not just harass the three journalists targeted by the complaints but also to thereby intimidate all reporters trying to work freely in Kashmir,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

 

“We call for the immediate withdrawal of these complaints, which have no credible legal basis. Branding any dissenting journalist or embarrassing photo as ‘terrorism’ speaks volumes about the contempt for journalistic pluralism displayed by the Indian authorities.”

 

In March, RSF reported a surge in recent months of cases of harassment of media personnel and violations of the confidentiality of their sources in the Kashmir Valley, and cited nearly 15 examples.

 

After repealing Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy on 5 August 2019, the Indian government imposed the longest digital curfew in history on the territory, blocking all Internet communications for nearly six months. Mobile Internet is still limited to 2G, which allows users to do no more than send and receive SMS messages.

 

After falling two places in the space of a year, in large measure because of the serious press freedom violations in Kashmir, India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.