Jammu & Kashmir police Saturday barred six senior photo and video journalists working for top national and international media organisations in Srinagar from covering the main Republic Day function at Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium in the summer capital. The CID reports on these journalists were “adverse”, the police said.
The journalist community in Srinagar boycotted the Republic Day ceremony in the city in protest against the police action. “The CID report in respect of below mentioned persons belonging to Media group have been found adverse and you are directed not to permit them inside the venue as their media cards for Republic Day 2019 treated as cancel,” the Security Wing of the J&K Police wrote in a letter signed by the Additional Superintendent of Police, Security, Kashmir.
The letter named Mehraj-ud-Din and Umar Mehraj, Bureau Chief and video journalist respectively of Associated Press Television (APTN), AFP photojournalist Tawseef Mustafa, ANI Bureau Chief Bilal Ahmad Bhat, Reuters photojournalist Danish Ismail Wani, and Daily Kashmir Uzma photojournalist Aaman Farooq.
All six journalists are accredited with the Information Department of the J&K government. Soon after these journalists were denied entry to the venue, all journalists boycotted the Republic Day function. In the afternoon, journalists took out a rally in Srinagar to protest against the police action.
Additional Director General of Police, Security and Law & Order, Muneer Khan told The Sunday Express: “Once this matter was brought to my notice, I sought a detailed report from SSP Security.”
A senior official of the J&K Police’s Security wing, however, said they had acted only because the CID gave an adverse report against these journalists. “The verification process is conducted by the CID and once they give an adverse report against anybody, we can’t allow them to go inside the venue for security reasons,” the official said.
The six journalists expressed shock at the way they had been treated.
“I reached the entrance of the (Republic Day celebration) venue around 9 am. When I showed them my pass, issued by the (J&K Police’s) Security wing, I was asked to wait. After some time, the security officials said they have orders to not allow some journalists to enter the venue. This is the first time in my 28-year career that I have seen this situation in Kashmir,” said Tawseef Mustafa of AFP, the Paris-headquartered international news agency.
Mustafa said he had covered wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, besides the 1999 Kargil war. “I have covered dozens of Prime Ministerial visits, and have never faced a problem like this,” he said.
Danish Ismail Wani of Reuters said he had not been informed of any adverse report against him. “I have been in this profession for more than two decades now. I hold a passport that was issued after proper verification. I do not know what adverse things they have found against me all of a sudden,” he said.
Mehraj-ud-Din of APTN, a highly regarded veteran of the profession who has worked for several top national and international media organisations in his career, said: “In my 40 years in the profession, this is the first time that such an unfortunate incident has happened. We have worked in the worst conditions in Kashmir, but have never faced such a problem. It is shocking to hear that they (the police) claim there is something adverse against us. It is very unfortunate. If something is adverse (against us), they should tell us.”
The Kashmir Editors’ Guild (KEG) condemned the police action. “The action by the security men on the ground suggests that the security establishment wishes to frighten the media by not allowing them to carry out their professional duties,” the Guild said.
The Kashmir Working Journalists’ Association (KWJA) said: “These are not isolated incidents of harassment against journalists but there is a pattern in it. In past week journalists were barred from covering professional duty in Baramulla and they were targeted with pellets in Shopian. This situation has become alarming and life-threatening for journalists.”
Earlier this week, journalists were not allowed to enter Baramulla town to cover the funeral procession of militants killed in an encounter. A few days ago in South Kashmir’s Shopian, four photojournalists covering protests by local people while a gunbattle was on, sustained injuries after securitymen fired pellets to scatter the protesters.
In a statement, K Vijay Kumar, Adviser to the J&K Governor, said: “It is learnt that today at Republic Day parade venue in Srinagar some journalists were not permitted to cover the event as the security passes issued to them were found not to be authenticated. The matter shall be looked into.”
He said it appeared that the incident had occurred because of the procedure followed by the police for issuing passes for such events. “The entire process of such security clearance shall be reviewed for better coordination in future,” he said.
Director General of J&K Police Dilbag Singh told The Sunday Express: “I haven’t received any such report. I was busy with the Republic Day function in Jammu but there was no objection (to journalists covering the function) to my knowledge.”
Political parties criticised the police action.
People’s Conference president Sajad Lone tweeted that he condemns “the attitude of the current administration towards press”. “They (journalists) boycotted Republic Day function in Srinagar after some of their colleagues were stopped. This is the first time ever it has happened. You can’t define journalism and journalists through the security prism,” he posted on Twitter.
J&K Congress Chief G A Mir condemned the “barring of journalists”. “No authority can bar Media fraternity to cover the important events,” he tweeted.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader and Youth President Waheed-Ur-Rehman Para posted on Twitter: “Very unfortunate that journalists have been barred to perform their professional duties at Srinagar Republic Day venue. Democratic set up can’t be so low & to bar the media persons from perform their duties & present the true picture before public.”
The National Conference’s provincial spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar said: “A free press invigorates and educates the nation’s citizens. Freedom I believe would be a short lived procession unless the people are informed. Journalist fraternity of Kashmir is already working under duress, and incidents like these further push the journalistic fraternity to wall.”