New Delhi: Veteran journalist Shujaat Bukhari, editor-in-chief of the Srinagar-based newspaper Rising Kashmir, was shot dead on Thursday by unknown assailants.
Two personal security officers were also critically injured in the attack that took place in Srinagar’s Press Colony. While one succumbed to his injuries, the other is battling for his life at SKIMS hospital. According to local reports, the journalist “received multiple bullets in the head and abdomen”.
— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) June 14, 2018
— ANI (@ANI) June 14, 2018
None of the terrorist groups active in the Valley have so far claimed responsibility. The last time a journalist was killed in Kashmir was over a decade ago. Srinagar itself saw killings in 2003, when Parvaz Muhammad Sultan, a reporter for a local news agency, was shot dead by gunmen in his office, and August 2000, when a bomb blast killed Pradeep Bhatia, a photographer with the Hindustan Times.
Unlike Bukhari, Bhatia was not specifically targeted and died because the terrorists planted two bombs in downtown Srinagar and timed the second – which was more powerful – to go off several minutes after the first, knowing that journalists and security personnel would be drawn to the site. That blast was claimed by the Hizbul Mujahideen but was executed by the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, which wanted the ceasefire that the erstwhile Vajpayee government had declared with the Hizb to be called off.
It is possible that Bukhari’s assassination is also linked to efforts by terrorist groups to disrupt the ceasefire Delhi has declared for the month of Ramzan. Last week, Bukhari wrote an article welcoming the ceasefire and expressing the hope that it could break the cycle of violence.
Bukhari, who had been based in Srinagar, had been running the Rising Kashmir for a little over a decade. Coming from an illustrious family of Kashmir – with a journalist as father, his elder brother Syed Basharat Bukhari serving as law minister in the Mehbooba Mufti government and another a government servant – Shujaat was one of the most respected names in Indian journalism.
Prior to launching his own newspaper, he was bureau chief of The Hindu in Srinagar for nearly 15 years. Widely travelled, Bukhari used to write in Kashmiri and Urdu as well as English. He was also the president of Adbee Markaz Kamraz, the biggest and oldest cultural and literary organisation of the Valley.
A voice of reason and sanity, Bukhari did not flinch from highlighting human rights abuses and consistently advocated dialogue as the way for resolution of Kashmir’s problems.
In a statement, Mehbooba Mufti said she was “shocked and deeply saddened” by Bukhari’s killing. “The scourge of terror has reared its ugly head on the eve of Eid. I strongly condemn this act of mindless violence and pray for his soul to rest in peace. My deepest condolences to his family. Terrorism has hit a new low with Shujaat’s killing. That too, on the eve of Eid. We must unite against forces seeking to undermine our attempts to restore peace. Justice will be done.”
Attacks on journalists in India
For the past two years, India has ranked among the countries with the highest number of journalist deaths.
According to figures released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), over 77 journalists and media workers have been killed in India between 1992 and 2018. Though the motive has been established in some cases, others are still loose ends.
In 2016, the International Federation of Journalists listed India as the eighth most dangerous country for journalists.
Hit jobs are not uncommon. The September 2017 murder of Gauri Lankesh, who was a fearless critic of the rising Hindutva forces in the country and editor of the weekly Lankesh Patrike, had all the hallmarks of a hit job. Shot outside her home in Bangalore, her death sparked protests across the country.
At the time, Reporters Without Borders said, “Journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals.”
In fact, according to the Hoot‘s ‘India Freedom Report: Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in 2017’, last year was a violent year for India’s journalists. The numbers speak for themselves – 11 journalists were murdered, there were 46 cases of attacks and 27 cases of police action including arrest and cases filed.