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Uthao, uthao video ab, won’t you make the video now?

November 27, 2011

This photograph shows photojournalist Shahid Tantray being assaulted by the Central Reserve Police Force in Srinagar on 25 November 2011

No tears will be shed for press freedom for attacks on journalists in Srinagar by the Central Reserve Police Force and the Jammu and Kashmir Police. Fahad Shah reports what happened in Srinagar yesterday:

Journalists were beaten up and one of them detained, today, when they were covering the post-Friday prayers protests in the Old City, here at Srinagar. Umar Mehraj, who works as video journalist for Associated Press says he, along with other journalists, was covering protests when Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and local policemen start beating. He said while beating, the forces were shouting, “Uthao, uthao video ab (Shoot, shoot the video now.).” Umar says his camera was broken and they were abused too.

The four journalists who were beaten up are, Showkat Shafi, who works as a freelancer with Al Jazeera English website, Yawar Kabli who works with Getty images and Kashmir Dispatch, and Umar Mehraj. Shahid Tantray, who works with Dainik Bhaskar was beaten up to pulp and later detained. This happened just three months after two photojournalists, Showkat Shafi and a Mexican photojournalist were thrashed at Nowhatta.

An eyewitness, a photojournalist, Zuhaib Muhammad, said, “We were covering protests when someone shouted, “They are coming. They are coming.” He said, “I turned and saw CRPF men jumping over protestors. They ran towards me and another colleague and we left from the spot to save ourselves. We went through lanes and by lanes but reached at a place where I saw CPRF men everywhere. Protestors were lying injured on the ground. While crossing a road some CRPF men shouted, ‘Pakdo Pakdo’ (catch catch). But we ran from there and they could just hit me once on my back.” [The Kashmir Walla]

Why would they beat up photographers and camera-persons? To prevent them from recording protests and stone-pelting. Why would they want to prevent them from recording what’s happening on the street? So that you don’t get to know it happened, so that you can be told that Syed Ali Shah Geelani is a mad, Pakistan-sponsored Islamo-fascist whom people don’t listen to when he calls for a general strike to protest the detention of children in police stations and jails. These images are prevented from being taken so that you can be sold the lemon of “peace” and “normalcy” in Kashmir, so that you can be made to believe it’s all fine there, the conflict is over, the problem is solved, it’s time for Truth and Reconciliation.

However, I am sure the people who run Kashmir (and none of their names end with Abdullah) regretted that amongst those beaten up was an Associated Press photographer, because Associated Press reports and photos make it to the Washington Post and others across the world, telling the world that all is not well in Kashmir, that India has something to hide, some photos of a street the Indian state does not want the world to see.

The security forces also grabbed Meraj’s camera and hit it with their guns and batons as well, destroying it, Meraj said.

 [...]A police statement issued after the assault said security forces had “exercised maximum restraint” in the face of stone throwing at the rally, but eventually gave chase to protesters.“Some photojournalists, who had intermingled with the crowd to cover this subversive activity, got trampled down by the fleeing miscreants,” the statement said.

And now think about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. It makes sure no CRPF personnel can be charged with assault at a police station with a FIR – something Indians can do but Kashmiris can’t. And now ask the question that has been asked in recent weeks: why do they need AFSPA in Srinagar if they say there are no terrorists in Srinagar? It’s because those who capture the truth are more dangerous for the state that’s trying to hide the truth. How can they beat up anyone they want to on the road if they are not allowed by law to be a law unto themselves?

To all journalists in Kahshmir who risk life and limb in order to carry out their professional duties, salutations.

The Press Council of India’s Retd. Justice Katju has asked chief minister Omar Abdullah for a report. He has sent it to the wrong person. He should re-direct it to Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

In National Interest you should not be interested in press freedom in Kashmir, but just in case you are anti-national, you may want to connect the dots with such factoids: Banned in Kashmir, cable news thrives in Jammu.

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