'Kicked', 'Abused': Police Attack Journalists Covering Muharram Procession in Srinagar

Journalists say the violence only stopped after they sat down on the road in protest.

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Srinagar: On Muharram 8, when the station head officer Shergahi, Aftaab Ahmad, got into an argument with Waseem Andrabi, a journalist with Hindustan Times, Bhat Burhan, a freelance journalist, ran towards the spot to try and calm the situation down.

According to Burhan, the officer was telling Andrabi that he will file an FIR against him.  After he saw Burhan coming forward, this police official shouted at him as well. Without any provocation, Burhan alleges, Ahmad started beat him with batons and abuse his mother.

Videos shot by several journalists, who shared them on social media, show angry policemen carrying sticks and rifles. Ahmad is seen leading from the front.

At least 10 journalists were assaulted on Tuesday (August 17) while they were trying to document the Muharram procession in different parts of Srinagar.

“When he kicked me, he told me, ‘You are a Facebook journalist,’” said Burhan, who has worked with various national and international platforms and whose film Inside Kashmir’s Invisible  Transgender Community was recently a finalist at the North American Digital Media awards.

Another photojournalist, Sajad Hameed, was also allegedly assaulted at the scene.

Hameed told The Wire that his camera, a 60D Canon, was damaged in the violence. “He [Ahmad] kicked me initially and then started hurling abuses at me,” he said.

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According to the journalists, the police ran towards them with assault rifles.

But after BBC Urdu photojournalist Shafat Farooq sat on the ground in protest, and was joined by other journalists, the police stopped. “I thought that we are just exercising our right, so why are we running away. So I sat down and eventually all of us were there, sitting,” he said.

Hameed, who is a freelance reporter with the Free Press Journal, said that this wasn’t the only time when he was assaulted. “It has happened before as well. Now I feel humiliated. Every time I see the police, I fear going in front of them,” he said.

Hameed said that the incident has made his parents feel like he should leave journalism and do something else. “But I tell them that this is what I always wanted: I want to document the stories of my people,” he said.

SHO assaulting photojournalist Burhan Bhat. Photo: Sajad Hameed

On Muharram 8, reports say, various mourners were detained when they tried to cross constructed barricades. The restrictions were meant to restrict large gatherings around Srinagar.

Many mourners were seen carrying placards with ‘Free Kashmir’ slogans written on them, and chanting religious and pro-freedom slogans. The police used tear-gas shells and resorted to baton charge to disperse the mourners. At Jahangir Chowk, police also used pellets.

The international media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to order a probe and hold those responsible to account.

“Jammu and Kashmir police abused their authority today by attacking journalists who were simply doing their jobs and documenting an event of public interest,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator, in Washington, DC. “The Indian government must take immediate action against those involved in this violent act, and send the message that police must allow journalists to do their jobs without interference.”

the Kashmir Press Club condemned the assault on the media and said, “Police authorities need to respect the freedom of the press as enshrined under the constitution.”

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Director General Police, Dilbag Singh, termed the assault on journalists “undesirable behavior” and demanded “immediate action against the erring officials”.

Later on August 18, the SHO who thrashed journalists was transferred along with six other police officers.

The annual Muharram procession in Kashmir used to pass through the areas of Abi Guzar, Lal Chowk and Dalgate, but has been banned since the eruption of militancy in 1990 as authorities maintain that the religious gathering has been used to propagate separatist politics.

Muharram processions last year in Kashmir had also turned violent after the police and government forces fired tear gas and conducted a lathi charge, injuring dozens.