Police defend action against journalists

Asking media persons and other organisations to issue statements only “after ascertaining the facts,” Jammu and Kashmir Police on Thursday said they have always maintained highest regard for freedom of press.

The police statement came in the backdrop of widespread criticism the law-enforcing agency is facing after they booked three journalists – Masarat Zahra, Peerzada Ashiq and Gowhar Geelani – under stringent laws.

“With reference to a claim by certain groups that freedom of press is being curtailed, IGP Kashmir said that before making such broad generalisations people should ascertain the facts,” a statement released by police said.

“IGP Kashmir said that only one journalist has been questioned about a journalistic work as only one FIR of instigating people for violence has been registered over an encounter in Shopian at PS Anantnag.

“Remaining two persons have not been booked for any journalistic work of their’s but because of the reason that they have posted explicitly seditious, incendiary and incriminating texts on social media, challenging sovereignty and integrity of India and attempting to instigate people for violence,” police said.  “One of them in the recent days has also met IGP Kashmir along with 3-4 members of Kashmir Press Club Srinagar and accepted the mistake claiming ignorance of the relevant law and assured not to repeat the same in future,” the statement said. “IGP assured that an impartial investigation will take place.”

Without naming Gowhar Geelani, the statement said, “Regarding the other person who has additionally been booked there are written complaints as he has exposed life of some peaceful and law abiding citizens to grave risk by posting incriminating and provocative adjectives against them on social media platforms like FB and Twitter. The content of these specific complaints discloses a criminal act and law will take its course and the written complaints against this individual will be investigated as mandated by law.”

“The IGP also reiterated that J&K Police has always maintained highest regard for freedom of press. Media persons and other relevant organisations are expected to issue statements only after ascertaining the facts.” The cyber cell of J&K Police has booked Zahra under Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and IPC Section 505. The UAPA allows authorities to declare individuals as terrorists and seize their properties. If found guilty, a person can be jailed for up to seven years. Section 505 of the penal code deals with provocation to commit offence against any class or community.  Before Zahra, Peerzada Ashiq, correspondent for The Hindu, was also summoned by cyber police to explain the content of a news story. On Monday, the police said they had booked Ashiq for alleged “fake news item.” The police has said the story related to an encounter in Shopian was published without confirmation from district officials.

In his defence, Ashiq had said he had evidence to prove that he got the facts right. Later police cyber cell registered FIR against freelance journalist and author Gowhar Geelani. However charges in the FIR have not been made public so far.