Two Srinagar-based journalists were beaten up by the police in Srinagar on Tuesday afternoon. The incident occurred outside the Islamia College in downtown Srinagar, where a protest had erupted earlier in the day.
Several journalists reached the spot after the protest had fizzled out. This was when Anees Zargar, who works for NewsClick, and Azaan Javaid, a journalist with The Print, spotted the police dragging two young men to a police vehicle parked outside the college.
They started filming the incident. When the police noticed them, Zargar says, he was confronted by Rashid Khan, station house officer at Rainawari police station. “We were on our way back [from the spot] when we saw the police detaining the boys and took pictures on our phones. That agitated him,” Zargar told Newslaundry.
While Zargar argued with Khan, Javaid sought the intervention of a senior police officer nearby.
A video of the incident, uploaded on Twitter by journalist Aakash Hassan, shows Javaid being pushed by armed policemen. Moments later, they start slapping him aggressively.
Zargar says he was slapped multiple times by Khan.
Manhandled for reporting?
Zargar believes he was targeted because of a news report he had filed on September 30. The report detailed Khan’s actions in a residential area, alongside allegations of him “misbehaving” with women and unleashing a “reign of terror”.
“He told me ‘Oh, you are Anees’ and introduced himself saying, ‘I am Rashid Khan, against whom you did stories’,” Zargar says. “There were many other journalists there, but we were singled out.”
Khan was in the news in late September after residents in his jurisdiction accused him of acting in a highhanded manner while attempting to secure land to establish paramilitary camps in the dense residential neighbourhoods along the Dal Lake in Rainawari, also in downtown Srinagar.
While he was assaulted by Khan, Zargar says Javaid was being beaten up by the security escort of Sajjad Shah, a superintendent of police who is Khan’s superior.
Javaid says Khan confiscated his mobile phone. “I sought the superintendent’s intervention to get my phone back. But despite showing my press credentials, he told me to come to his office later,” says Javaid. “His language was abusive and while I was having an argument over it, his [security escort] started beating me up.”
Javaid says he and Zargar had gone to Islamia College to verify whether the protest that took place earlier was in response to the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. “We couldn’t find that out because this happened,” he says.
The police account of what transpired is different. Shah says there was a protest; young men threw stones from inside the college premises and the police detained two of them. According to Shah, the protest broke up without police intervention.
He denies the two journalists were beaten up or singled out. “There was a man wearing a pheran who was taking a video,” he says. “I told them to come to my office later but till now, no one has come.”
Neither Zargar nor Javaid were wearing pherans.
Media in the crosshairs
The incident has led to outrage in the journalist community, which already faces crippling restrictions from the government after the abrogation of the erstwhile state’s special status.
Since August, government pressure on the press has increased and the methods employed to intimidate journalists have diversified. Many journalists have been summoned to police stations and asked to supply information on sources quoted in stories that presumably offended the authorities.
Javaid had recently reported on a goof-up by the police: an internal report — presumably a copy of one of the police’s daily social media monitoring reports from September — was attached to a press release emailed to journalists. Soon after, Javaid and another journalist were removed from a WhatsApp group run by the police to disseminate information to the press.
Journalists in Kashmir are now facing an uncertain future. “They enjoy a certain impunity,” Javaid says of the police. “It is unfortunate that senior police officers are not setting an example. We will keep doing our job and not be intimidated by this thuggery.”