United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Friday expressed deep concern over the “apparent unnecessary and excessive use of force” against journalists and human rights defenders.
Among the three journalists mentioned by the Special Rapporteurs, two are from Kashmir’s Anantnag district and the third one belongs to the Bihar state of India.
Appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Special Rapporteurs are independent experts tasked to monitor and report on the human rights situation.
In the communication we expressed our deep concern regarding the “apparent unnecessary and excessive use of force against journalists and human rights defenders,” the statement issued on Friday said.
It said, “The lack of investigation or response from police following complaints about the instances is deeply concerning, particularly in the case of Chandrabhushan Tiwari, who was exposing alleged police corruption. We fear that the lack of investigation and follow-up with the human rights defenders may be a sign that corruption within the Indian police forces may extend beyond the officers reported to have taken bribes.”
Chandrabhushan Tiwari is a journalist and human rights defender working for the daily Hindi newspaper Gyan Shikha Times, in the Kaimur district of the State of Bihar. He reports on a broad spectrum of issues for the paper, including alleged human rights violations.
According to the UN human rights defenders, “On 11 July 2021, Chandrabhushan Tiwari came across congested traffic between Usauli and Kudra on National Highway 2, while travelling on a motorcycle with another individual. Tiwari began filming on his phone as he approached the traffic.”
“Tiwari observed that the traffic had built up because police officers of the Kudra Police Station were collecting what appeared to be bribes from truck drivers. Three police officers, who saw Tiwari filming, reportedly confiscated his mobile phone. When Tiwari informed them that he was a journalist, the police officers reportedly physically assaulted him and the person with whom he was traveling with their batons.”
A more senior officer reportedly recognised the journalist and ordered the younger officers to stop the assault, explaining that the policemen were new and did not realise who Tiwari was. When Tiwari asked if the beating would have continued if it were against a lesser known individual, the senior officer reportedly threatened that they could land themselves in trouble if they took the matter further. Tiwari’s mobile phone was returned and he left the scene, the statement added.
“On 12 July 2021, Tiwari asked the Superintendent of Police of Kaimur about the incident via WhatsApp, but he did not receive a reply. On 14 July 2021, Tiwari detailed the events in a letter sent to the Superintendent of Police of Kaimur with copies to the State Secretariat and the Director-General of Police of Bihar. At the time of writing, no response has been received to the letters and reportedly no disciplinary action has been taken against the officers accused of the allegations.”
The statement added. “We are deeply concerned that the unwarranted attacks against the journalists may be an attempt to clamp down on freedom of expression and silence reporting on human rights issues in India”.
It is of utmost concern that both Tiwari and Aakash Hassan appear to have been beaten by police officers allegedly merely for carrying out their journalistic profession, or being identified as members of the press, it said.
Aakash Hassan is an independent journalist and human rights defender in the city of Srinagar in Kashmir. In recent years, he has covered the ‘increasing military presence’ in Kashmir and the military’s alleged surveillance of citizens there, the statement said.
“On 17 July 2021, as he travelled home at around 9 pm, Aakash Hassan was stopped at a routine traffic operation by the police in the Anantnag District in Jammu and Kashmir. Reportedly upon identifying the press sticker on his vehicle, the police officer directing traffic shouted “press, press”. Hassan was allegedly grabbed by the collar, beaten in the face and the body, at times with batons. One officer attempted to drag Hassan out of the vehicle. With the beating ongoing, Hassan managed to drive away from the scene and seek medical attention”.
The UN Special Rapporteurs said, “Hassan reportedly shared details of the attack and images of his injuries on social media. Shortly after the incident, a superintendent of the Anantnag District Police contacted Hassan to inform him that the incident would be investigated. At the time of writing, Hassan has allegedly received no information on any investigation carried out into the attack”.
If confirmed, these attacks would raise serious concerns regarding the environment in India for the lawful exercise of the journalistic profession, it said.
We also expressed our deep concern regarding the alleged raids on the home of Qazi Shibli and his family members, the statement added.
Qazi Shibli is a journalist and editor of the news website The Kashmiriyat in Anantnag city in central Jammu and Kashmir. The Kashmiriyat covers general news about Kashmir, including politics and current affairs. He was the subject of previous communication, IND 9/2021, sent on 3 June 2021 to your government. To this date, no response has been received to the communication, The UN statement said.
“On 6 August 2021 at approximately 1:00 am, police searched the home of Qazi Shibli, while he was not there, for approxmiately two hours in Anantnag City in central Jammu and Kashmir. The police forcibly entered Shibli’s home by breaking the lock and reportedly did not provide a warrant or justification for the search. Reportedly, the police also broke several items such as glasses, window panes, and a security camera outside Shibli’s home. The police also allegedly confiscated electronics belonging to members of Shibli’s family, who were present during the search, and a CCTV intercom monitor in the home.”
It said, “At approximately 1:30 am on 6 August 2021, the police also searched the homes of Shibli’s cousin and grandmother for 20 and 30 minutes respectively.”
Hours before these searches, The Kashmiriyat had reposted an article from 2017 on social media, regarding a Kashmiri militant, who had allegedly been killed by Indian forces, the statement said.
“We fear that these raids are a worrying illustration of a pattern of targeted harassment of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir, raising further serious concerns regarding the ability of journalists to exercise their profession free from threats or intimidation,” the statement concludes.