Three journalists covering the ongoing District Development Council elections in Kashmir were beaten up by a senior police officer on Thursday.
Fayaz Ahmad Lolu, Mudasir Qadri and Junaid Rafiq were reporting from Liver village in Anantnag when they were thrashed by the district police chief, senior superintendent of police Sandeep Chaudhary, who also snatched away their equipment.
All three of them work for TV news channels. Fayaz, a seasoned journalist, reports for ETV Bharat, Mudasir for News 18 Urdu, and Junaid for TV9 network.
On Thursday, at around 7.30 am, they reached the Srigufwara polling station in Anantnag and found people coming out to vote, said Fayaz. Then, they went to Liver village, over 4 km away, where there were no voters. They had barely set up their cameras near the polling station, Fayaz recalled, when they were approached by the local candidate for the PAGD, an alliance of regional parties including the National Conference and the PDP. He complained that the security forces were not allowing him or his supporters to cast their ballots.
Hearing this, an additional police superintendent who was deployed at the polling station asked the journalists to wait and speak with SSP Chaudhary, who was on his way there, Fayaz said. “As soon as the SSP came and we greeted him, he started slapping us for reasons unknown to us. He also snatched our equipment. All this happened in front of many people,” he added. “Then his men bundled us into a police vehicle like we were criminals and took us to the Srigufwara police station. We were traumatised, humiliated.”
At the police station, Junaid complained of chest pain and breathlessness. “Seeing his situation, they took him, along with Mudasir and me, to the Srigufwara primary health centre, where Junaid was put on oxygen. We were worried but thankfully he stabilised after a while,” Fayaz told Newslaundry. Sometime later, the journalist told the Indian Express, “the SSP came, handed us our equipment back, and apologised. He said he was provoked by someone”.
Junaid Rafiq in hospital.
Chaudhary’s assault on the journalists provoked outrage from political leaders as well as journalists in the valley. Former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP and Omar Abdullah of the National Conference both condemned the attack.
The Kashmir Press Club, meanwhile, demanded an enquiry. “We hope strict action is taken against those found guilty in this act perpetrated in utter disregard of the freedom of the press. The club further urges the State Election Commissioner to take note of such incidents and initiate action against the concerned police official,” the press club said in a statement. “KPC further urges that the authorities should ensure an enabling atmosphere is created for the free and fair functioning of the media in Kashmir.”
Speaking to Newslaundry, the press club’s general secretary, Ishfaq Ahmad Tantray, said, “This is highly condemnable. The said officer always gives lessons on reporting and news, but doesn’t let journalists carry out their professional duties. It is a pattern. Journalists are being intimidated, harassed or summoned by the police, and despite repeated appeals, the authorities are not listening to us. The authorities should ensure there’s no harassment or intimidation of journalists so that they can work freely. We also hope that the police top brass will sensitise district-level police officers so as to avoid any such situations in the future.”
Asked if the press club had taken up the matter with the police brass, he said, “In the past, whenever we raised the issue of intimidation or harassment of journalists with the police, the only thing we heard was they would enquire but, unfortunately, nothing happened on the ground which is highly unfortunate.”
Newslaundry tried contacting the state election commissioner, KK Sharma, for comment about a senior police official assaulting journalists at a polling booth, but he could not be reached. Chaudhary asked to send him our queries on Whatsapp when we called him, but then did not reply. This story will be updated if a response is received.
Jahangir Sofi is a journalist in Kashmir.