Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir police raided the residences of four senior journalists in Srinagar in the early hours of Wednesday morning in what is seen by journalists and media groups as part of ongoing crackdown on press freedom in the region.
The police, which was accompanied by paramilitary forces, cordoned the localities of Bemina, Raj Bagh and Lal Bazar before carrying out the raids which extended for hours. The police, according to sources, also confiscated mobile phones, laptops and some important documents of these journalists and from their family members.
The four journalists Hilal Mir (44), Shah Abbas (50), Azhar Qadri (34) and Showkat Motta (52) were later summoned to a Srinagar police station where they were questioned for hours by various security agencies, which continued on Thursday. The family members of at least two journalists alleged that the police ransacked their belongings during the raid.
“The police turned our home, including our bedroom, upside down. They were very aggressive and did not even tell us why they were doing so,” a family member of one of the journalists told NewsClick.
Sources in the police said that they are investigating the journalists in a case related to a blog – kashmirfight.wordpress.com – known for “targeting” political workers, civil society members, activists, academicians and journalists, “ issuing threats and accusing” them of working as ‘collaborators’.
Interestingly, one of the journalists summoned by police was also targeted by the blog in a slanderous article. The police are investigating the blog – believed to be run from Pakistan – and have made several arrests including that of a Srinagar municipality official.
Qadri, Motta and Abbas have worked for local, national and international media organisations in the past two decades. Mir, a former copy editor with Hindustan Times also worked as the editor of two prominent local newspapers Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Reader while Qadri contributes for The Guardian newspaper and has formerly worked with The Tribune, The Kashmir Walla and Press Trust of India.
Motta worked for Outlook, Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Reader and was the editor of magazine Kashmir Narrator. His colleague, Asif Sultan, an award winning journalist continues to remain in jail for his reporting on insurgency in Kashmir. Since Sultan’s arrest, Motta has not been active in the field while Shah Abbas works for local daily Uzma – a sister concern of Greater Kashmir.
The raids have triggered fresh concerns among media groups who claim that the authorities are targeting reputed journalists for their work.
“#India-held #Kashmir: @RSF_inter firmly condemns as crude intimidation this morning’s police raids at the residence of 4 journalists – @KashmirNarrator editor Showkat Matta, @trtworld & @HuffPost’s @mirhilaal, and freelancers @AzharQadri and Abbas Shah. #JournalismIsNotACrime,” global press freedom body Reporters sans frontières (RSF) tweeted.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which promotes press freedom globally, while condemning the raids, issued a statement: “Police in India-administered Jammu and Kashmir should stop raiding the homes of journalists and immediately return any seized electronic devices, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.”
Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator, in Washington, D.C, said: “The repeated harassment of journalists in Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir needs to stop immediately,” adding that “Police should halt any interrogations of and investigations into journalists Showkat Motta, Azhar Qaddri, Abbas Shah, and Hilal Mir, and return all electronic devices seized from the journalists’ homes.”
Just two weeks ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) had asked the Government of India (GoI) to take measures to stop “arbitrary detention and intimidation of journalists covering the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.” The UN body mentioned the Kashmiri journalists Fahad Shah, Auqib Javeed, Sajad Gul, and Qazi Shibli who were allegedly harassed by authorities in the region at several instances.