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Attacks on the Press
Although the press in Kashmir reports on some incidents of abuse by government security forces, many newspapers practice self-censorship because they fear reprisals by the security forces or countermilitant groups. In1995 and 1996, several journalists were killed and others injured in violent attacks by countermilitants.81 The press in Kashmir has also been a frequent target of threats by militant groups.
An incident on June 27, 1997, journalists covering a the arrest of several demonstrators in front of the UNMOGIP building in Srinagar were beaten by police. Surinder Singh Oberoi of Agence France Press told Human Rights Watch that Superintendent of Police Mubariq Ganai questioned him, "What are you doing here?" Oberoi stated:
When I told him I was performing my professional duty, he put his stick on my shoulder against my neck and said: "Get lost!" I said to him, "Don't use force. If you want me to go, just tell me to go, and I'll go." And I pushed his stick away. Then he started beating me, as did all of his security people with their rifle butts. It's like they had been waiting to pound on all the photographers and were now taking out their wrath on me.82
A number of other journalists were also beaten, including Zafar Mehraj of the daily Kashmir Monitor, who was later treated at the hospital for his injuries.
After the incident, a large number of local journalists decided to ask for a meeting with Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to protest. Although any accredited journalist with a press card is permitted to visit any government building, the guards outside the secretariat building refused to allow them to enter and opened fire into the air. The journalists waited outside the gate for two hours before the chief minister came out. He criticized the security forces and apologized to the journalists. He invited them into the conference room and listened as they described what had happened. Oberoi stated:
I told my story, and he apologized to me and said he would order an inquiry. Then Chief Secretary Ashok Jaitley came in a bit later and said: "Why are you making a scene? We said there would be an inquiry, and so there will be." We told him that we wanted an impartial inquiry, and we asked that the three officers concerned be "attached" [i.e., transferred to elsewhere in the city], as they might otherwise try to influence the inquiry. R. Singh, the secretary to Farooq Abdullah, agreed that the three would be attached. And in fact they were transferred, but no inquiry ever took place. I am still waiting. About six months ago, when I raised the matter at another press conference, Farooq Abdullah said that an inquiry was in progress. But until now, nobody has come to me.83
When questioned about the incident, Chief Secretary Jaitley stated, "As far as I know, the officer involved was punished, and there was a departmental inquiry."84 If that were the case, then the inquiry proceeded without the involvement of the key witness and can hardly be considered either impartial or thorough; the case illustrates the government's failure to take appropriate action even in regard to less serious abuse.
In another incident, on July 26, 1997, Habibullah Nakash, a photographer, was beaten by a STF officer during a visit by Indian Prime Minister Inder K. Gujral. He suffered a swollen eye and facial bruises. Oberoi stated:
We all decided to complain, but Jaitley and others begged us not to raise the issue. That evening we went to the press conference for the prime minister and I stood up and said that I wanted to make an appeal concerning a colleague who had been beaten, and could he please intervene. Before I could even finish my short speech, Farooq Abdullah stood up and said: "Who beat the photographer?" I said that it was STF officers. Farooq Abdullah said: "I will suspend them now. If found guilty, I'll dismiss them from the service." He said this in front of everyone, including the prime minister of India. The STF officers were neither suspended nor dismissed, and there was no inquiry.85
81 See Human Rights Watch, "India's Secret Army in Kashmir," pp. 21-24. 82 Interview in Srinagar, October 18, 1998. 83 Interview in Srinagar, October 18, 1998. 84 Interview in Srinagar, October 20, 1998. 85 Interview in Srinagar, October 18, 1998.
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