Journalists in Kashmir face tough challenges

Journalists in Kashmir face tough challenges
Twenty-one journalists have so far been killed in Kashmir, either directly targeted or caught in the crossfire while reporting, as dozens more face hardships in their daily jobs.
8 min read
08 January, 2019
Many journalists in Kashmir face the threat of physical violence [Getty]
Dozens of journalists were beaten up by security forces late last year while covering the Fateh Kadal encounter in the heart of Srinagar, the largest city of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Prior to this, a number of journalists were barred by government forces from covering the funeral of PhD Scholar turned rebel commander, Dr Manan Wani, making it impossible for journalists to carry out their professional duties. But these two incidents were of course not the first time journalists were beaten or barred.

In 1995 a parcel bomb was planted at the office of senior journalist, Yusuf Jameel, which resulted in the killing of his colleague Mushtaq Ali. On June 14, 2018 during the month of Ramadan, Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of local daily, Rising Kashmir, was mercilessly killed with his two security guards outside his office in the press enclave of Srinagar. He was attacked by three individuals on a motorcycle who police claimed belonged to Kashmiri rebel group Lashkar-i-Toiba. 

Many journalists have also faced arrests. In September 2017, Kamran Yousuf, a freelance photographer was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and in 2018, Auqib Javeed, a reporter for a local daily in Kashmir was summoned by the same agency in connection with a story on related to the chief of the all-woman Islamic group, Dukhtaran-e-Millat, Asiya Andrabi. 

Later in September, Asif Sultan, the assistant editor of local magazine, Kashmir Narrator, was arrested by local police for allegedly 'harbouring known terrorists' and glorifying militants through his writing.

While Asif Sultan is still lodged in jail, Kamran Yousuf is out on bail and Auqib Javeed was let off after three days of questioning, but the journalists here remain in constant fear while covering or reporting from ground zero.

Around 21 journalists have been killed since the year 1990 in restive Kashmir and hundreds of violent incidents have taken place where journalists are attacked, both verbally and physically, at the hands of government forces. Yet no one has been held accountable for these acts by the state till date.

Journalist Saqib Mugloo, who was physically assaulted by government forces a day after the Fateh Kadal encounter on October 16, says the mechanism of the state security apparatus is "heavily running on journalists while they are out to report." He adds that is has become difficult to report facts in a state where journalists are met with abuse and assault.

As per the annual report of media watchdog, Reporters without Borders, out of 180 countries India ranks at 138th place in press freedom, citing the main reason as 'physical violence' against journalists.

Referring to Kashmir, RSF said in their report that "coverage of regions that the authorities regard as sensitive, such as Kashmir, continues to be very difficult". It added that foreign reporters are barred from the region and the "internet is often disconnected there". Furthermore, Kashmiri journalists working for local media outlets "are often the targets of violence by soldiers acting with the central government's tacit consent".

Another report titled Kashmir's Media in Peril notes that in Kashmir, along with the Maldives, is a zone in South Asia in "need of urgent intervention to protect press freedom and journalists' rights".

The report has said that the media has "suffered in the form of killings, direct attacks, intimidation, threats and pressures from various quarters. Twenty-one journalists have been killed due to the conflict – either directly targeted or caught in the crossfire."

Read also: Blinded in Kashmir: Scores of women injured by India's counter-insurgency crackdown

Many promising journalists have also had to quit their profession before they could start off due to these threats. Shreen Hamdani, now a teacher, used to work as an online editor for a local magazine. She tells The New Arab that journalists in the region "work tirelessly but are offered peanuts in return, which makes many aspiring journalists switch off and turn to other professions."

Journalist Mohammad Raafi, who works for local daily Kashmir Reader, tells The New Arab: The media sector in Kashmir is financially unorganised. It does not guarantee job security to its workers. Journalists with university degrees and professional skills are paid peanuts. Many journalists give up their career in media and switch to other options primarily because of lack of financial security in the sector."

These contentions have also been pointed out in a report by the International Federation of Journalists, noting that in Kashmir there are "no appointment letters, no medical benefits, no insurance or pensions or provident funds" for journalists. Written contracts are not drawn up and jobs and work assignments go according to oral agreements which are not binding." The report also mentioned a "lack of support from employers," highlighting the case of photojournalist, Kamran Yousuf, who was picked up on September 5, 2017 by the NIA is still languishing in Delhi's Tihar jail with no charges framed against him and no support.

"A journalist in Kashmir is always at risk. The pressures and pulls are many, but there is no protection or support system," Raafi added. 

List of journalists killed in Kashmir 

- On February 19 1990, Lassa Kaul, director of the government-owned Doordarshan television station, was shot dead by militants in Bemina area of Srinagar. The killing prompted the station's closure for a three-year period.

- On March 1 1990, P N. Handoo, the Assistant Director of Information, was shot dead inside his office at Balgarden, Srinagar.

- On April 23 1991, the murder of the editor-in-chief of Al-Safa, Mohammad Shaban Wakil served to mute local journalists' criticism of Kashmiri militants, whom many suspect killed him. According to reports, some gun-wielding men entered the office of Vakil and fired at him indiscriminately.

- On September 29 1992, a renowned calligrapher, Ali Mohammad Mahajan, working with Urdu newspapers Hamadard and the Daily Aftab, was killed by paramilitary forces along with his son, Aijaz.

- On October 16 1992, Syed Ghulam Nabi, the Joint Director Information, was kidnapped and held captive for four days. On October 20, his dead body found with torture marks.

- On October 3 1993, the killing of Radio Kashmir news reader Mohammad Shafi Bhat sparked a wave of resignations by his colleagues.

- On August 29 1994, the murder of freelance journalist Ghulam Mohammed Lone left a chilling effect on stringers working in outlying areas of the Kashmir Valley. He was killed by a group of masked gunmen who also fatally shot his seven-year-old son in their home in Kangan, Kashmir.

- On September 10 1995, Mushtaq Ali, an Agence France-Presse and Asian News International photographer, opened a package at an office in Srinagar's Press Enclave. The parcel exploded, severing Ali's left hand, disfiguring his face and severely injuring his right hand and abdomen. He died three days later.

- On April 10 1996, Ghulam Rasool Sheikh, the editor of the Urdu-language daily Rehnuma-e-Kashmir and the English-language weekly Saffron Times, was found dead floating in Kashmir's Jhelum River. Family members alleged that Sheikh was abducted and then killed by a paramilitary group.

- On January 1 1997 an anchor for the state-owned Doordarshan television station in Srinagar, Altaf Ahmed Faktoo, was shot dead by militants.

- On March 16 1997 the same year, a freelance journalist Saidan Shafi, was shot dead along with his bodyguard in Srinagar. Shafi, a reporter for Doordarshan TV, the official Indian television network, for Kashmir File, a weekly news programme, and Eyewitness, a five-minute nightly news capsule, was fatally shot in an ambush by two gunmen in Srinagar.

- On April 8 1997, Tariq Ahmad, a private television producer was killed.

- On August 10 2000 a grenade attack at Residency Road in Srinagar brought a hive of journalists to cover the spot. Moments later a car parked in a lane exploded in which Hindustan Times photojournalist, Pradeep Bhatia, was killed.

- Parvaz Muhammad Sultan, editor of a local news agency, was killed by unidentified gunmen in 2003. Sultan was the editor of an independent news-wire service, News and Feature Alliance (NAFA), based in Srinagar, and was shot dead by an unidentified gunman.

- Senior reporter of the region's information department Abdul Majid Bhat was killed in a blast in Jammu's Doda town on May 9 2004.

- Another scribe Asiya Jeelani was killed in a landmine blast in Kupwara on April 20, 2004. Jeelani was a freelance journalist who contributed to local newspapers, and a human rights activist who worked with a human rights group, Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). The blast also killed the driver of the vehicle.

- Ashok Sodhi, a photojournalist and then chief cameraman of Daily Excelsior, was killed on May 11, 2008 in the Samba district of Jammu. Sodhi was caught in a crossfire close to India’s border with Pakistan.

- On August 13 2008, Javed Ahmed Mir, 35, was shot dead while covering a demonstration near Bagh-e-Mehtab. According to the BBC, apart from being a cameraman, he was also a textile worker to help support his wife and three children. Reporters Without Borders urged the government to carry out a thorough investigation into the death of local TV cameraman.

- On June 14 2018, Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari was shot and killed outside his office in the Press Avenue in Srinagar. Unknown gunmen fired a volley of bullets on his car. Bukhari was shot multiple times in his head and abdomen.

Nusrat Sidiq is a legal and human rights reporter working for Kashmir Reader. Her articles have also been published in Asian Times and Indian Water Portal.

Follow her on Twitter: @nusratsidiq