Policemen on Thursday assaulted a group of journalists who were carrying out their professional duties outside the house of chairman of Hurriyat Conference (G) Syed Ali Geelani at Hyderpora here. Two photojournalists sustained injuries in the incident while many others received mild injuries.
The incident, that came in for severe criticism, happened at 12.30 pm when journalists were covering the detention of Geelani, Hurriyat Conference (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF chief Muhammad Yasin Malik at Rehmatabad, Hyderpora.
Witnesses said the policemen, who were deployed in large numbers in the area, prevented the photojournalists to take photographs of the resistance leaders.
Despite repeated requests, the cops pushed back the photographers asking them not to click any pictures. In the ensuing situation, senior photojournalist Touseef Mustafa of AFP was caught by his throat by a cop of Sub-Inspector rank while the police driver ferrying the resistance leaders almost ran over Greater Kashmir lensman Mubashir Khan.
"I pleaded frequently to the police official to allow us to perform our professional duties, but he caught hold of my collar and misbehaved with me. He pushed me back. I told him to allow me to click photographs, but he again punched me towards the wall," Touseef told Greater Kashmir.
Many other photojournalists including Farooq Javed, Shuaib Masoodi and video-journalist Sheikh Umar and Imran Nisar sustained minor injuries.
Greater Kashmir photographer Mubashir Khan said a tyre of a police vehicle overran his right foot. "I am not able to walk properly," he said.
The police action evoked strong criticism from the media fraternity as members from both print and electronic media staged a protest at Press Enclave here against the police action on journalists.
The incident evoked widespread condemnation from several other quarters.
KASHMIR EDITORS' GUILD
The Kashmir Editors' Guild led by Editor-in-Chief of Greater Kashmir, Fayaz Ahmed Kaloo, strongly condemned the police action against newsmen.
"While entire press corps that had assembled to cover the event were threatened and chased, at least two news photographers were beaten for no reason at all. Farooq Javed Khan, the president of Kashmir Press Photographers Association, who was present on the spot, said a police driver rushed his 'rakshak' seemingly to hit the scribes. While they barely managed to save themselves, Mubashir Khan of Greater Kashmir had the vehicle crushing his foot," the KEG said in a statement.
It said the AFP photographer Tawseef Mustafa was actually caught by an officer by his throat and attempted suffocating him. He even threatened him of dire consequences. "The photographers, part of highly dedicated and disciplined press corps, were waiting outside the venue and when the three leaders came out, and police started arresting them, they put their cameras on and started working," the KEG statement read. "This was the time when cops deployed on the spot objected to their action and started marshalling them. There are clear photo and video evidences offering a clear detail of the police assault."
The KEG took a strong exception to the misuse of power for muzzling the media. "This has, unfortunately, been a routine than an exception."
The statement further said that last time, while photographers were covering an event in Bijbehara, cops actually fired a projectile on one of them outside the local hospital gate, thus pushing him to hospital for many weeks for a broken arm.
"Given the frequency with which the police is abusing its authority to restrict the role and responsibility of the media, KEG is seeking an intervention of the government at the highest level to ensure that state's principal arm does not exhibit an abnormal growth," the statement said.
The Kashmir Press Photographers' Association held an emergency meeting in which it strongly condemned the assault on Agence France Presse (AFP) photojournalist, Tauseef Mustafa and other photojournalists while they were discharging their professional duties at Hyderpora.
A KPPA statement issued here denounced the assault on photojournalists in general and Tauseef Mustafa and Mubashir Khan of Greater Kashmir in particular. "The DO of Police Station Humhama assaulted Mustafa and caught hold of his throat and attempted to suffocate him. There is clear photo and video evidence offering a clear detail of the police assault. In the meantime, a police driver also rushed his 'Rakshak' vehicle in an attempt to overrun the photojournalists and while trying to save them, Khan of Greater Kashmir had the vehicle crushing his foot," the statement said.
Besides, the statement said, the DO Humhama also pushed and misbehaved with World News photojournalist Imran Nisar and other photojournalists performing their professional obligations. "DO also abused the photojournalists and threatened Mustafa of his life, saying he was SOG man and would not hesitate in killing photojournalist."
The KPPA also condemned the beating of other photojournalists including Farooq Javed Khan of the European Photo Agency (EPA), Shauib Masoodi of The Indian Express and Umar Sheikh of the Times Now.
The Kashmir Video Journalists Association also held an emergency meeting under the chairmanship of Sheikh Tariq in which it strongly condemned the assault on Agence France Presse (AFP) photojournalist, Tauseef Mustafa and other photojournalists and videojournalists while they were charging their professional duties. "KVJA demands suspension of the cop who was involved in this incident and appeal to authorities to hold an impartial inquiry into this incident as soon as possible," a statement of KVJA said.
The Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Geelani condemned the police action against media men, terming it as "sheer state terrorism."
Lashing out at police authorities for their 'highhandedness', a Hurriyat (G) spokesman Ayaz Akbar, in a statement said: "Media persons were performing their professional duties and there was no legal or moral justification for thrashing them and mishandling the situation. The police are trampling all ethics and have virtually turned the state into police garrison. They have imposed restrictions on right to expression."
The Hurriyat expressed sympathy with Tawseef Mustafa of AFP, Mubashir Khan of Greater Kashmir, Farooq Javed Khan of European Press Photo Agency, Umar Sheikh of Times Now, Shuaib Massodi of The Indian Express and Imran Nisar of DNA, who were injured in the police action.
The Hurriyat Conference (M) also condemned the assault, terming the police attack on journalists at Hyderpora as "worst form of state sponsored terrorism."
A spokesman of Hurriyat (M) said such an incident points towards the fact that J&K has practically been converted into a police state.
Terming the manhandling of journalist Touseef Mustafa and Mubashir Khan and others as undermining the fourth pillar of democracy, the spokesman said the freedom of speech and expression was under direct attack from the state.
"This incident shows how difficult it is for the journalists to carry out their professional duty on the ground. The government is using arm twist to pressurize the journalists so that the truth does not come out before the world," he said. "The manhandling of the journalists by the police is violation of the democratic norms and human values; it also exposes the tall claims of democracy and freedom of speech by the rulers."
The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front strongly condemned assault on senior photojournalist Tawseef Mustafa, GK photojournalist Mubashir Khan and others. "This shows the height of frustration the rulers and their police are suffering from," the spokesman said.
Dukhtaran-e-Milat chief Aasiya Andrabi strongly condemned the detention of resistance leaders and police 'brutality' on photojournalists in Hyderpora. "It once again establishes the fact that Jammu and Kashmir is a police state. The police brutality and highhandedness is increasing with every passing day," Andrabi said.
CPI (M) senior leader and MLA Kulgam, Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami also condemned the police action against the media persons, calling it a 'violation of democratic norms'. He appealed to police officials to stop such acts. "Such action against media persons must be stopped as performing professional duties is not any crime. The media persons must be given free atmosphere to perform their professional duties," he said.
Democratic Party Nationalist (DPN) president and former agriculture minister, Ghulam Hassan Mir condemned the assault on journalists. Terming the attack as 'undemocratic', Mir said: "The media persons who were performing their professional duties should not have been assaulted."
He said the police official involved in the act should be dealt with strictly according to the law. "The unnecessary action against the media persons is not good and the police officials must restrain themselves from carrying out such actions," he added.