A police officer threatened to shoot a prominent Kashmiri photographer during an altercation with journalists outside the residence of separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani on Thursday.
The incident, which demonstrates the difficulties faced by mediapersons in the Valley, occurred while AFP photographer Tauseef Mustafa was waiting with other journalists to cover a press conference held by a number of separatist leaders – including Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik and Geelani himself.
The officer also clutched Mustafa by the throat, photographs of which later turned up on the social media.
Mustafa said he and his colleagues were accosted by law-enforcement personnel while trying to take photographs of the separatist leaders. “The police were there to arrest the leaders. One of the officers caught me by the neck and starting choking me. He said he was from the SOG (special operations group), and threatened to shoot me,” he told HT.
A few other photographers were also injured in the incident. Farooq Khan, president of the Kashmir Press Photographers Association (KPPA), told HT that a policeman even drove a jeep over the feet of Mubashir Khan – a photographer with the Greater Kashmir newspaper.
Later in the evening, the KPPA held a demonstration at Sringar’s Press Enclave to protest police high-handedness. They held up photographs of the police officer clutching Mustafa by the throat.
“The officer assaulted Mustafa, caught hold of his throat, and attempted to choke him. There is clear photographic and videographic evidence of the assault,” the KPPA statement stated. Farooq, for his part, said Kashmir’s media fraternity would hold a mega-demonstration on Saturday evening if the police failed to take action against the personnel involved.
Ayaz Akbar, spokesperson of the hardliner Hurriyat faction, termed the police action as “sheer state-sponsored terrorism”. “The state law-enforcement agencies have virtually turned Kashmir into a police garrison. They are imposing restrictions on everybody,” he alleged.
A spokesperson of the Hurriyat’s moderate faction expressed similar sentiments, stating that police brutality was “the worst form of state-sponsored terrorism”.
In response, Jammu and Kashmir director general of police SP Vaid simply said that policemen in the state “need to be counselled”.
Later, the police department issued a press release stating that the incident occurred after the journalists concerned headed towards Geelani’s residence despite explicit instructions against doing so. The release further added that the police were expecting “breach of peace” outside the separatist leader’s residence.
This is not the first instance of journalists being targeted by security personnel in Kashmir. Several scribes suffered the brunt of police excesses during the unrest that followed the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. Two photographers were hit by pellets while covering a protest, leaving one of them partially blind.