New York-based international press freedom watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called upon the Indian government to drop investigations into the work of three Kashmir-based journalists and allow them to report without “harassment, intimidation, and criminal investigations.”
In a statement issued on 22 February, the CPJ called upon the authorities to drop the charges against journalists Yashraj Sharma, Mir Junaid, and Sajad Gul.
“Jammu and Kashmir Police must drop their investigations into all three journalists and stop targeting journalists because of their reporting,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher.
The Jammu and Kashmir police had filed a First Information Report (FIR) against The Kashmir Walla’s Yashraj Sharma and another Kashmir-based news portal The Kashmiriyat’s Mir Junaid following a complaint by the Indian Army on 30 January.
The Army has alleged that news reports about a school in Shopian being “pressured” by them to hold this year’s Republic Day function is “baseless”.
More than three weeks later, both news organizations are yet to receive copies of the complaint as mandated under the law.
On 2 February, a court rejected Fahad Shah and Yashraj Sharma’s petition for pre-emptive bail, which would exempt the journalists from detention during the investigation, and both are now petitioning the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
On 12 February, the police filed another FIR over a report by freelance journalist Sajad Gul that appeared in The Kashmir Walla on 9 February. Gul has been accused of taking part in a demonstration against home demolitions in his hometown Hajin in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district.
The report in question pertains to a demolition drive carried out by Tehsildar Hajin, Ghulam Mohammad Bhat. The report quoted local residents accusing Bhat of threatening them and forcefully demolishing their homes.
“Gul denied partaking in such a demonstration and told CPJ that he was in Srinagar, about 40 miles from Bandipora, on February 10,” the statement by CJP mentioned.
“Gul also told CPJ that the police had not given him a copy of the complaint, and have merely mentioned the counts on which he is being investigated.”
The CPJ says that it also contacted Amritpal Singh, senior superintendent of police for Shopian, Colonel K. Arun of the army’s Additional Directorate General of Public Information, and Sajad Malik, police deputy superintendent of Hajin, for comment via messaging app but didn’t receive any responses.