Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir police Monday filed an FIR in connection with a news story published by The Hindu Sunday despite a social media campaign against its decision to charge Kashmir-based independent photojournalist Masrat Zahra under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
The police have also questioned a senior journalist from The Hindu’s J&K Bureau, Peerzada Ashiq, a move that drew further criticism from the journalist community in the Valley.
According to a report by The Hindu, Ashiq was called in for questioning by the Cyber Police in Srinagar Sunday and then again on the same evening by the Anantnag police before being permitted to return home.
“Describing a report headlined “Kin allowed to exhume bodies of militants in Baramulla” published by The Hindu on April 19 as “fake news,” the Jammu and Kashmir police have registered an FIR in the matter,” reads The Hindu report on 20 April.
The report was on two militants killed in an encounter in South Kashmir’s Shopian region. Two families had come forward to claim the bodies of the slain militants whom the authorities had said were unidentified.
The administration had buried the slain militants in a graveyard in Sheeri, Baramulla, reserved for foreign, unidentified or unclaimed militants.
Report said authorities granted permission for exhumation
Ashiq’s 19 April report had claimed that the families had been allowed to exhume the bodies.
“The Hindu’s report was based on a quote from the uncle of a slain militant, Ghulam Nabi Magray. However, contrary to what he conveyed to the reporter, no permission for exhumation of the bodies had been given,” The Hindu’s 20 April report said. “Apparently, the families had misconstrued grant of a movement/curfew pass as sanction for exhumation.”
A J&K police release claimed details quoted in the news item “were factually incorrect and could cause fear or alarm in the minds of public”.
“The news was published without seeking confirmation from the district authorities,” said the police press release. An FIR (No. 81/2020) was registered in relation to the news item at the Anantnag police station, the release added.
A police source said that the FIR does not name Ashiq or the publication as “accused” and that it was likely more people would be questioned during the investigation. This, the police source said, would include those who might have shared the The Hindu report.
FIR draws criticism
The FIR against The Hindu report also drew criticism on social media much like the police action against Masrat Zahra.
While Masrat’s case saw people demanding the charges be dropped using #IstandwithMasratZahra hashtag, support poured in for Ashiq from various quarters.
The international journalist body, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had on 20 April demanded that authorities in J&K “immediately stop harassing journalists Masrat Zahra and Peerzada Ashiq, and let them report freely”.
The Kashmir Press Club also issued a statement on the FIR against Ashiq.
“Police on Sunday (April 19) verbally summoned a senior journalist, Peerzada Ashiq, of The Hindu and asked him to explain the alleged factual inaccuracies in a story that was published the same day,” the statement said. “While Peerzada explained his case to police in Srinagar, he was asked to travel to south Kashmir, some 40 kilometers away in evening, and present himself before a police officer in Anantnag district. He returned late in the midnight to his home in Srinagar but in the meantime his family was terrified and concerned about his safety.”
Masrat is also expected to be questioned by officials at the Cyber police station in Srinagar today. She tweeted that she was entering the police station at about 3.30 pm.
So wish me good luck bcause it's time to defend my rights as a journalist, Going inside cyber police station.
— Masrat Zahra (@Masratzahra) April 21, 2020
Police have claimed Masrat allegedly posted “anti-national” content on social media without specifying which of the social media posts of the photojournalist were found to be in contravention of the law.