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J&K Police Now Summon 'Caravan' Journalist Over News Report

'The Wire' asked top cops as to whether police have carried out independent threat assessments on corporator Shaheena Bhat and other alleged 'prominent persons' after Shahid Tantray's story was published. Police have not responded yet.

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir Police have summoned journalist Shahid Tantray on Saturday, June 11, in connection with a story published by The Caravan magazine that they allege has endangered the lives of “many prominent persons” in Kashmir.

Sources said that the summons issued to Tantray are under Section 41 (A) of The Code of Criminal Procedure. Tantray is a resident of Srinagar who at present works as a multimedia reporter with The Caravan.

Under the section, a person, “against whom a reasonable complaint has been made, or credible information has been received, or a reasonable suspicion exists”, can be arrested by police without the order of a magistrate or a warrant.

“As a law abiding citizen, Shahid will cooperate with the investigators,” said Hartosh Singh Bal, political editor of The Caravan. “The story has not been factually countered by the ‘prominent persons’ who have complained to the police. I find it bizarre that our reporter has been singled out for the story that has been organisationally vetted. It looks like an attempt to shoot the messenger,” he added.

The summons come after J&K Police opened a probe on June 8 in connection with the report titled ‘False Flags’ authored by Tantray. The story appears in the latest edition of the Delhi-based magazine and police have said that “a complaint” was filed by “many prominent persons” against the “mischievous” article.

The 5,000-word piece was the result of research and investigation conducted over a period of eight months. It details the role of the Indian Army in helping a group of Kashmiri men and women in “building” and “furthering the narrative of the Indian government and its armed forces” that “normalcy has returned” to Kashmir after the reading down of Article 370.

The Srinagar police, which is investigating the complaint, said that the article has named some people “in mischievous manner which is akin to giving targets to terror groups and puts them in danger.”

“In past many prominent personalities like Shujaat Bukhari have been targeted & killed due to similar articles focussed on certain personalities in blogs like Kashmir Fight etc,” Srinagar police tweeted, adding that a probe has been ordered in the case.

Shujaat Bukhari, a prominent Kashmiri journalist and the editor of a local English daily based in Srinagar, was assassinated on June 14, 2018 outside his office in the congested Lal Chowk. Days before the assassination, ‘Kashmir Fight’ blog, which the J&K police believe is operated from Pakistan, described Shujaat as a “tout” who had betrayed the “Kashmir struggle” and was close to the “Indian establishment”.

The blog has been taken down from a US server on the request of the Government of India but it continues to run on Telegram channels.

Also read: Shujaat Bukhari: A Saga of Courage and Empathy

Shaheena Bhat, a corporator at Srinagar Municipal Corporation who is affiliated with Kashmiri businessman turned politician Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party, has been named in Tantray’s story as a regular participant in the protests and candle lights vigils in Srinagar, allegedly sponsored by the Army under the banner of ‘Aakhir Kab Tak’ (‘for how long’).

In a tweet on June 5, Bhat alleged that the story had put her and her family’s life in danger while accusing Tantray of threatening her. “The timing of the article is crucial especially during the current attacks on individuals & Pandits the scenario looks like a conspiracy like that of Shujat Bukhari nd babar qadri who was first identified and then cowardly killed (sic),” she tweeted.

In an audio clip of a recorded call made by Bhat to Tantray – which was shared by the editors of The Caravan with The Wire – the female corporator is allegedly heard initially denying ever meeting Shahid at her office in the Srinagar Municipal Corporation building on January 12 this year. In the same conversation, the voice which is allegedly hers later acknowledges that the meeting might have taken place.

“Who told you to write the story?,” the voice purportedly belonging to Bhat is heard asking Tantray, sounding agitated, “Why have you posted the story (on social media)? My family has come under threat because of this story. You will have to pay for it. I will ensure that you go to jail. I will make a story out of you.”

The Wire could not independently verify the authenticity of the audio clip. None of the other people named in the story have made any public statements after it was published.

The Wire asked the Director General of J&K Police, Dilbag Singh, and Inspector General of Police (Kashmir) Vijay Kumar, whether the police had carried out an independent threat assessment on Shaheena Bhat after the story was published in The Caravan. 

Although IG Kumar read the messages sent by The Wire over WhatsApp, he did not respond.

This correspondent also asked the police officers about the date on which the complaint was filed, whether it was a joint complaint or some individual complaints, and whether police protection has been given to these “prominent persons” due to their apprehension that their life has been put in danger. This report will be updated as and when they respond.

After The Caravan story became available to the magazine’s digital subscribers, Shahid Tantray issued a long statement essaying his and his family’s “consistent harassment” by officials in Kashmir. He alleged that his father was reportedly called to a police station in Srinagar by officials and questioned about his son’s whereabouts.

Ajai Shukla, a retired Army colonel and defence expert, said that the governments must deal with criticism by “responding calmly, putting out the facts and backing those with hard data and video proof, so that the journalist is assured that he has obtained the material that he was seeking”.

“Such a course of action is likely to ensure a less damaging story,” Shukla said.

Noting the “depressing trend” of harassment of journalists who “don’t toe the government line”, the Press Club of India on Thursday, June 9, asked the Union government and J&K’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to “immediately intervene to safeguard the freedom of the press and stop further harassment and targeted witch hunting of journalists.”

“Press Club of India strongly castigates J&K police for harassing Shahid Tantray. Of late, Tantray’s reportage critical of J&K government policies has invited ire from policy makers,” it said in a statement.

“The J&K police threatening Tantray to stop reporting against the government or else face consequences refreshens the memory of the Emergency era of 1975. The Press Club demands immediate enquiry against the J&K police for unleashing criminal intimidation against Tantray and latter be reinstated in Srinagar as reporter,” it added.

Ajai said that it’s a “bad idea to throw the weight of law at journalists in a place like Kashmir which poses a unique set of challenges for journalists.” Reacting to the J&K police probe against The Caravan journalist, Ajai also said that the Army should not associate itself with any programme which is seen as “pushing a particular political line”.

“The Army should make its own independent, apolitical assessment and, based on that, it can take security-related decisions. That would be good for the army and the government as well as the country,” he said.