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Pulwama: On Saturday evening, a journalist was allegedly assaulted by the police at the Sangam checkpoint in Kashmir’s Anantnag district while he was on way home.
Aakash Hassan, 23, confirmed the incident through his Twitter handle. He also shared pictures showing bruises and cuts on his face and hand.
I was just beaten up by JKP cops at Sangam while I was on way home and they were cleaning traffic.
A sub inspector named Zahid and his one PSO came in front of my car and slapped and beat me up by batons—and the barrage of abuses. pic.twitter.com/3azazpO16S
— Aakash Hassan (@AakashHassan) July 17, 2021
Hassan, an independent journalist who frequently contributes to international publications, alleged that he was targeted for his “journalistic identity.”
Hassan said that there was a traffic jam on the national highway and it took the police around 15 minutes to clear it.
“An SI was standing in the middle of the road. They thrashed a pickup driver who was driving in front of me. When I reached near them, and slowed down my car down, they grabbed my collar and hit me in the face without any reason. As I tried to talk to them they did not listen to me, one of them spotted a press tag on my vehicle and shouted “press” and tried to drag me out,” Hassan said, “But I swerved away quickly.”
After the incident, Hassan drove to a nearby hospital in Anantnag town where he received first aid treatment.He was then advised to see an ENT specialist for further treatment.
The district police in Anantnag responded to his tweet that was widely shared by his colleagues and other people saying, “Cognisance taken. Circumstances that led to this being looked into. During rush evening hours, a loaded truck got stuck due to mechanical fault on Sangam bridge leading to heavy traffic jamming. Been working hard to clear it.Request all to cooperate with police & avoid confrontation.”
Hassan also demanded that the police authorities file a case against the cops who assaulted him. “They should be taken to task so that they won’t repeat it,” he said.
The attack on Hassan triggered an immediate outcry among the local journalists and politicians, who pressed the police to take action against the accused cops.
Former chief minister and People’s Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti called the assault “unacceptable and disgraceful”, urging the IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar to take “strict action” against the policemen.
Unacceptable & disgraceful to see JKP officers assault journalists. They act with impunity knowing all too well that they will get away with it. Hope IG Vijay Kumar ji takes strict action against this policeman @JmuKmrPolice https://t.co/seobg8k8I5
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) July 17, 2021
“The assault on Aakash is atrocious and appalling,” Zafar Aafaq, a journalist and friend of Hassan’s, told The Wire. “We are increasingly seeing members of the press being harassed and attacked by police. This should stop and police should instead enable free movement of journalists.”
“Absolutely reprehensible and disgraceful behavior by the police. Concerned officials must be taken to task, shame,” journalist Azaan Javaid tweeted.
The Kashmir Press Club also condemned the attack and asked for an investigation into the matter. “It is an unfortunate incident that journalists are being beaten up like that, we hope that authorities will take note of this unfortunate incident and will find out what exactly happened,” Shuja ul Haq, Kashmir Press Club president, said. He further said that nobody should be treated like that.
Similarly , the Journalist Federation of Kashmir urged action against the erring cops while saying the attack on Hassan “once again highlights the lack of accountability and reflects the ground reality in Kashmir”.
The group called for an end to “impunity for crimes committed against journalists” in Kashmir.
Hassan’s case is not an isolated one, as journalists in Kashmir have been increasingly complaining of harassment and police cases for reporting.
Recently Shafat Farooq, a video journalist with the BBC Urdu service, and Saqib Majeed, a freelance photojournalist, alleged that they were also assaulted while on an assignment.
Last year, the global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said India had dropped two spots on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 142 in a list of 180 countries.