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Illegal detentions and harassment of journalists rampant in Kashmir: FHR Report

The report has brought to fore rampant misuse of controversial laws, such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), to stifle dissent.

In its latest report released on February 13 on the human rights situation in Kashmir, the independent body Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir chaired by former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur has highlighted “systemic use of psychological scare tactics on media professionals through physical assault… harassment under various charges… illegal detentions” against journalists in Kashmir.

The Forum, which comprises an informal group of concerned citizens, has also noted denials of the right to bail and fair and speedy trial remain in the Union Territory.

The report has brought to fore rampant misuse of controversial laws, such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), to stifle dissent.

Citing police action against numerous journalists in the Valley including the arrest of 18 scribes since August 2019, the report has spotlighted the atmosphere of fear for journalists in the region.

“A journalist attempting to write legitimate reports, much like Aasif Sultan, may be imprisoned under UAPA, as he is for over two years and counting, without the charges against him being made public,” the report reads.

It further explained, “After the release of the new media policy in May 2020, the past six months saw a systemic use of psychological scare tactics on media professionals through physical assault, 281 summons, harassment under various charges, 282 administrative seizure of assets during raids, 283 sealing of newspaper offices, illegal detentions, withdrawing advertising and militant hit-lists of journalists declared to be on the government’s payroll. The Kashmir Times office in Srinagar was sealed by the Estates Department on 19 October 2020, without any written notice.”

Illegal detentions and harassment of journalists rampant in Kashmir: FHR Report - Digpu News
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According to the report, many media persons in the region believe that chronic stress which Kashmiri journalists face are having a fatal impact on many of them.

“Implementation of the much-criticized new media policy led to the dis-empanelment of about 20 media outlets. As a result, the near-total alienation of the people of the Kashmir Valley from the Indian state and people continue,” the report states.

The report sought the release of all political detainees who were taken into preventive detention on or after August 4, 2019 and quashing of FIRs against journalists.

“Release all detained juveniles and withdraw charges against them. Withdraw unsubstantiated charges under the PSA/Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) against political leaders, journalists and activists,” the FHR report states.

The report seeks initiation of criminal and civil actions against police personnel, armed and paramilitary forces found guilty of a violation of human rights, especially with regard to recent instances of attacks on journalists.

“Moreover, the details now revealed by the Jammu and Kashmir Police on the July 2020 extra-judicial killing of three Rajouri youth in Shopian indicate that this is a fit case for criminal charges in place of the Army’s court martial procedure. The Forum recommends that the Ministry of Home Affairs grant permission for a criminal trial of Captain Bhupinder Singh and his two accomplices,” the report states.

Pertinently, this was the second report released by the forum on the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir between August 2020 and January 2021.

It is in place to mention here that journalists have been constantly being summoned by local police stations for their professional work. In many instances, they have been booked under various Sections, particularly in the Kashmir division.

Recently, a district court refused interim relief to two local news portals after an FIR was filed against them, based on a “fake news” complaint by the Indian Army.

The FIR was for running a story on the local Army unit “forcing” an Islamic seminary school to hold Republic Day celebrations on January 26 in Shopian district of south Kashmir.

The FIR was filed in the Imam Sahib area of Shopian under Sections 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code against two websites – The Kashmir Walla and Kashmiriyat – on January 31.

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