Srinagar: Journalists in Kashmir have accused an Indian Police Service officer, Sandeep Chaudhary, of repeated misconduct with the media, both physically and on social media. Chaudhary is currently senior superintendent of police for Anantnag district.
Three journalists on Thursday accused Chaudhary of beating and detaining them while they were reporting on the ongoing District Development Council elections.
At around 8:30 am on Thursday, Mudasir Qadri, a journalist working with News 18, Fayaz Ahmad, a stringer for ETV Bharat, and Junaid Ahmad, who works with TV-9, were interviewing a candidate when some local voters approached them, saying they had been stopped from going to the polling station in Srigufwara area of Anantnag district.
According to the journalists, people near the polling booth had started protesting when no polling took place till 8 am, even though officially, it was to begin at 7 am.
“After we finished recording the interview, SSP Sandeep Chaudhary arrived at the spot and started beating us,” one of the three journalists told The Wire. “We kept asking why he was slapping us, but he just kept slapping again and again.”
Their equipment was also seized by the police without any provocation, they allege.
The journalists said that they were bundled into a police vehicle and taken to a police station, where they were detained for a couple of hours. In the police station, Ahmad’s health deteriorated and he had to be taken to a hospital.
“He was nervous and he fell unconscious,” said another journalist, adding that around five policemen accompanied them to the hospital where Ahmad was treated by doctors.
When the news of this alleged attack came out, journalists in Kashmir and social media users condemned it. Soon after the news went viral, Chaudhary apologised to the reporters and told them that there was some kind of misunderstanding which had led him to treat them badly.
However, this is not the first time when Chaudhary has allegedly misbehaved with journalists.
After Thursday’s incident, many Kashmir-based journalists took to social media to talk about the officer’s actions.
Peerzada Ashiq, who works with The Hindu, tweeted: ‘This officer does it again, beats up three journalists on duty, threatens to book them in false cases, seizes equipments. More he will soon write in @ThePrintIndia and @IndianExpress about how to shepherd people in Kashmir, Will FIR be lodged?’
In his tweet, Ashiq was referring to the opinion pieces Chaudhary has written in these two news outlets.
In April, the Anantnag police, which is headed by Chaudhary, summoned Ashiq for a story he had written in The Hindu and filed an FIR against him. The police claimed that details quoted in the news item “were factually incorrect and could cause fear or alarm in the minds of public”.
On November 27, Chaudhary shared a screengrab of a story carried that day in the Indian Express and criticised how the headline was written.
“Journalists don’t need lectures from police officers on what to write and how to write,” Basharat Masood, the Indian Express reporter who had written the news report, tweeted, referring to the officer’s post without naming him.
Incidents like these have become a norm in the Kashmir Valley, where journalists have to face officials’ wrath on a regular basis. The Wire spoke to a few journalists to understand the present circumstances in which reporters are being intimidated.
Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Kashmir Times, whose Srinagar office was recently sealed by officials, told The Wire that it is highly unfortunate that reporters who do ground reportage, as they are supposed to do, are stopped and intimidated.
“The officer cannot get away by saying that I was provoked. They are not to be provoked. They are taught to maintain restraint and not show their power,” Bhasin said.
She said it is shocking that this has come from an officer who has been preaching about how to talk about human rights violations in Kashmir and how not to.
The Kashmir Press Club also issued a statement to condemn the incident and called “for a thorough inquiry”.
“We hope strict action is taken against those found guilty in this act perpetrated in utter disregard of the freedom of the press. The KPC further urges the chief electoral officer to take a note of such incidents and initiate action against the concerned police officer,” the statement read.
The Wire spoke to KPC president Shuja Ul Haq, and asked if anything else will be done. “We hope an enabling atmosphere is provided for the fourth estate to fulfil its role. KPC has regularly been taking up these issues with the higher ups in the administration in the hope of redressal,” he said.
He also said that besides this, almost all such incidents are flagged to the Press Council of India and the network of press clubs across the country.
A number of journalists soon took to social media and said that the officer is often unruly with journalists, while also lecturing them on how to do journalism.
Journalists in Kashmir don’t appear hopeful about the situation changing anytime soon.
“What happened today with the three journalists in Southern Kashmir cannot be seen as an incident in isolation. There is a clear pattern: Silence the journalists and criminalise journalism in #Kashmir,” Aakash Hassan, another Kashmiri journalist wrote on Twitter.
Quratulain Rehbar is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist.