Journalists covering protests outside downtown Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid on Friday alleged that they were chased by police personnel and two of them were beaten up.
Minutes after the incident, Shafat Farooq, a video journalist with the BBC’s Urdu service, told The Kashmir Walla over phone that “a constable hit me on backbone with a gun butt” as other personnel chased him when he was covering the protests in the Nowhatta area.
After being hit with the butt of the personnel’s assault rifle, Farooq said that “the police continued to chase” him. “Then I confronted him on why he hit me,” Farooq told The Kashmir Walla in a phone interview. “Then other media personnel intervened. I took his shots on camera too.”
During the brawl between the police officers and journalists, parts of which were recorded by The Kashmir Walla, Superintendent of Police Sandeep Gupta is heard shouting at Shafat: “I am not thrashing journalists, I have told you to go…”
Gupta, the SP for North Srinagar, told The Kashmir Walla that there “wasn’t a confrontation” with the journalists. “I was trying to push them back, telling them to move back,” he said.
The officer also denied that police personnel intentionally hit Farooq with their weapons. “They [police personnel] were trying to push them [journalists] back, the gun hangs from the shoulder, it swings and isn’t under your control,” he said.
Gupta further said that he had held a journalist by his jacket to prevent him from entering the masjid’s premises. “He claimed that I was choking him. They [journalists] misbehaved. If you are not listening to the SP of the area, then you are a goon in the backdrop [sic] of journalism,” he said. “If they don’t have an explanation, they claim that they have been beaten up. This is how journalism works.”
On Friday, journalists arrived at the historic Jamia Masjid since Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chief priest and head of Hurriyat Conference, was expected to lead the Friday congregation after more than 20 months of house detention.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration had reportedly claimed to have released Mirwaiz from house detention. However, his faction of the Hurriyat claimed that the government didn’t allow Mirwaiz to leave his residence and the deployment of government forces outside his residence was beefed up.
Journalists outside the masjid confronted the police for manhandling their colleagues. BBC Urdu correspondent Riyaz Masroor was also on the spot. He said that the journalists had stood behind the police deployment as protestors clashed with the government forces at some distance.
“Journalists were doing their work behind your line – why did you beat them up brutally as if to kill him,” Masroor had told the police officer, he said. “Then they softened, the police said: ‘there is tension here… we asked you to leave.’ I replied we were leaving.”
A freelance photojournalist, Saqib Majeed, was also allegedly beaten up by the police. “The police grabbed his collar and held him by neck,” three journalists, who were also covering the protest, told The Kashmir Walla.
A third journalist, associated with the local outlet Kashmir Crown, was being detained apparently for not carrying his press ID. He was let go after the intervention of other journalists present at the site of the protest.
The police had also fired pellets from shotguns on the protestors. The stone throwing had ended at the time this report was filed.