In Kashmir, journalists are easy targets

IN Media Freedom | 08/12/2011
So who is protecting journalists here? No one! They report from the world's most militarized zone and in return the conditions are made miserable for them.
FAHAD SHAH reports from the frontlines
On November 25, afternoon, four journalists were beaten up and one of them was detained, when they were covering the post-Friday prayers protests in the Old City at Srinagar. Umar Mehraj, who works as video journalist for Associated Press said he, along with other journalists, was covering protests when Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and local policemen start beating. He said while beating, the forces were shouting, “Uthao Uthao video ab (Shoot. Shoot video now.).” The cameras were broken by the forces. Showkat Shafi, who works as a freelancer with Al Jazeera English website, Yawar Kabli who works with Getty images and Kashmir Dispatch, and Shahid Tantray, who works with Dainik Bhaskar were beaten up to pulp and Shahid was later detained. This happened just three months after two photojournalists; Showkat Shafi and a Mexican were thrashed by the police at downtown area of Srinagar.
The Press Council of India Chairman Justice Markandey Katju wrote to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. He said, “the paramilitary forces and police in all States/Union Territories must…be instructed not to commit any violence on media persons, otherwise they will face criminal proceedings which the Press Council will launch against them.”
Katju’s letter after this incident came as a support to Journalists working in Kashmir. The Hindu newspaper reported Katju saying that he did not accept the police version that the journalists could not be differentiated from the rest of the unruly mob of 300 to 400 youths hurling stones at the police which resulted in a lathi charge. “I am informed that the journalists had video cameras and other equipment, which clearly distinguished them from the rest of the crowd. At any event, it is obvious that when a journalist is being attacked he is bound to tell the police that he is a journalist.”
But in reply to this letter Abdullah said, “As a starting point may I suggest that journalists who wish to plunge in to crowds to get the perfect photograph should wear brightly coloured jackets/bibs so that they can be identified easily by the law enforcing agencies.”
Does this suggestion carry any weight?
I don’t think so. If journalists are wearing jackets it would be easy for forces to target them. As happened in the last month incident. There were photojournalists carrying cameras and lenses and their backpacks. They were repeatedly showing their identity cards and telling forces that they are journalists, only to cover the protests. But this was not taken seriously and they were beaten up. A photojournalist, while narrating how he saved himself from beating, said they were covering protests when someone shouted, “They are coming. They are coming.” He said, “I turned and saw CRPF men jumping over protestors. They ran towards me and another colleague and we left from the spot to save ourselves. We went through lanes and by lanes but reached at a place where I saw CPRF men everywhere. Protestors were lying injured on the ground. While crossing a road some CRPF men shouted, ‘Pakdo Pakdo’ (catch catch). But we ran from there and they could just hit me once on my back.”
Abdullah in his letter also said that “even with the best of intentions mistakes will happen & we have to take steps to reduce the possibility of such mistakes.” A mistake can be a mistake but when any action is repeated again and again, it will be foolishness to call it a mistake. It simply highlights improper ways of treating journalists. In Kashmir, journalists have always suffered. There are more than a dozen journalists who were killed. There have been parcel blasts on journalists. There have been kidnappings of journalists.
So who is protecting journalists here? No one! They report from the world’s most militarized zone and in return the conditions are made miserable for them. It is high time for government to respect journalists and stop behaving inhumanely with them.
Neither Abdullah’s assurances nor suggestions will work nor any code of conduct. When the problem lies at the root nothing can change by decorating leaves. 
Fahad Shah is a journalist. He is the Editor of The Kashmir Walla.
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