A statement by The Caravanâs multimedia reporter, Shahid Tantray (@shahidtantray), on facing police harassment.— The Caravan (@thecaravanindia) June 8, 2022
For immediate attention: @pressfreedom@RSF_inter@IndEditorsGuild@PressCouncil_IN pic.twitter.com/3AGPYFgGNw
The Caravan journalist Shahid Tantray has alleged that the Jammu and Kashmir police have been harassing him and his family since he reported on the and the army’s alleged in the valley. The journalist said he has been receiving repeated calls from police officials and has even been threatened with false cases.
A statement issued by the reporter – addressed to the Press Council of India, the Editors Guild of India, Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders – was shared by the magazine on Twitter on Wednesday. This comes two years after the journalist was in northeast Delhi during the 2020 communal violence that left over 50 dead.
Tantray said, “I request you also to intervene, in the interest of protecting free and fair reporting and my right to practice my profession, without fear of repercussions for myself and my family.” He said he was first called by the police when he was on assignment in Kashmir in January.
“On 23 January, while I was away from home for reporting, two policemen, including a beat officer, arrived at my home.They asked my younger sister, who was alone at home, where I was. My sister was worried…I asked her to give them my phone number…The first call was from a sub-inspector who was posted at the Rangreth Police Post…he asked me several questions about my profession…he told me that an official at the Sadder Police Station wanted to speak to me.”
The official at the Sadder police station told him that he was only enquiring about “prominent people” in the area as per directions from senior officers, and it was not linked to his reporting, according to the statement.
Tantray said that he stayed away from home over the next few days fearing that the police would harass his family for his work. After the piece on the media crackdown was published on February 1, the journalist said, the sub-inspector “called me again on the Signal application and asked me why I had published the story”. “He asked if there was a way for the story to be removed…I said I had worked on this story for over eight months. He asked me if the story was filed to the editors before or after policemen had visited my house and questioned my sister.I told him I had filed it before that but the story was published on I February because Caravan is a monthly magazine. He said okay, and cut the call.”
On February 4, Tantray went to the Rangreth police post after a call from the police and was made to wait for two hours. “Then three police officers arrived. They were the official from Sadder police station, a deputy superintendent of police, and the sub-inspector. The first two were sitting 0n chairs but the sub-inspector asked me to stand to the side. After a few minutes, the deputy superintendent asked me to sit. Then, the police officials started questioning me about my piece. They asked me to tell them how I had gathered different bits of my article, and asked me to disclose my sources…l told them I will be unable to reveal my sources as that is against common journalistic ethics and could endanger my sources' safety.”
The DSP said it was a “matter of politics” and “this was not Europe, where you can write anything”, the journalist alleged. “He told me I have a long career ahead of me and should not be doing ‘risky work’. The sub-inspector, on the other hand, told me that the police have several open FIRs related to drugs cases and threatened to arrest me…He said it would be very simple to implicate me falsely. He said, ‘Every security agency is after you.’ He told me I should get married and that would help me ‘cool down’.”
The journalist claimed that he was given three options – to give a written statement that he would not write anything against the government, to write pieces that displease the government and get shot or jailed, or to leave for Delhi.
“I said I would leave in two days,” said the journalist, but added that he was asked to bring his father to the police station to give a bond stating that he would not write against the government. “I assured him that I was leaving Kashmir…they let me go.”
On April 10, Tantray tweeted about jailed Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan being booked under the PSA shortly after receiving bail in another case. “The sub-inspector called me and asked me why I had tweeted about Mr Sultan…he said that he had received several calls from his seniors asking him to deal with me…He also said that ‘Kashmir is a police state’.”
On June 1, Tantray’s piece on the army’s alleged role in organising nationalistic protests in Kashmir was published.
“On 3 June, Mrs Shaheena Bhat, a corporator from Srinagar, who had spoken to me on record for the story, called me. I have the entirety of the recording of this call. In the call, Mrs Bhat initially claimed that I had not met her at all. After I reminded her that I had met her at the Srinagar Municipal Corporation office on 12 January, she agreed that I had met her but continued to say that she was not quoted accurately. I had taken notes of my reporting from that meeting and still have them available. I told her I had only written what she had told me…she asked why the story's headline was ‘False Flag’. After that, she asked me why I tweeted the story…she began threatening me…that she would get me sent to jail. Shortly after this, an army official I had mentioned in the piece called me four times. I could not answer his calls.”
On June 4, Tantray’s father was called to the police station, the journalist said.
“The deputy superintendent asked my father about my whereabouts. My father said that I was on a reporting assignment in Delhi. On 5 June,the deputy superintendent again called my father…Shortly after that, the Caravan’s political editor Hartosh Singh Bal called the DSP and informed him that I was on a reporting assignment in Delhi. Mr Bal also asked about why he was enquiring as to my whereabouts. Upon being asked, the deputy superintendent did not reveal any details.He told Mr Bal, ‘We don 't have to tell you…We know where to find him’.”
The journalist said the organisation then sent formal letters to the DSP, sub-inspector as well as senior J&K police officers including DGP Dilbagh Singh, IGP Vijay Kumar and SSP Srinagar Rakesh Balwal. “In the emails, I detailed the deputy superintendent 's recent inquiries. I asked whether a formal complaint or FIR was pending against me. I also requested that the deputy superintendent share the relevant details, including the complaint or FIR number, sections invoked, allegations against me, as required under the law. I also requested that he kindly share the copy of the complaint or FIR with me, as mandated by the Hon'ble Supreme Court…if he required me to join an investigation…kindly issue me an appropriate notice under Section 41A, CrPC…my organisation sent copies of these letters via post as well. At the time of typing this statement, over 24 hours since sending the emails, I was yet to receive any official acknowledgment or responses to my letter.”
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