May 17, 2001
The Honorable Lal Krishna Advani
Home Minister, Republic of India
New Delhi, India 110 011
Via Facsimile: 91-11-301-4221
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is dismayed by last week’s brutal attack against journalists in Kashmir by members of India’s Border Security Force (BSF). We are encouraged by the apparently swift and thorough BSF investigation, and hope that it will yield concrete results.
We urge you to ensure that the findings of the investigation are made public and that appropriate action is taken against the officers responsible for the violence.
On May 10, a group of 17 journalists were attacked by members of BSF Battalion 194. The journalists were in the Kashmir town of Magam to cover the aftermath of the previous day’s suicide bomb attack against a BSF camp. The attack left 11 people dead, eight of them civilians, according to local press sources.
The journalists, mostly photographers and television cameramen, were covering a funeral procession for three of the civilian victims when a BSF convoy approached the crowd. The BSF members got out of their vehicles and began firing in the air and attacking members of the funeral procession, according to journalists who were present at the scene.
As the crowd scattered, BSF soldiers turned on journalists documenting the assault, beating them with rifle butts and batons and destroying their camera equipment.
Some journalists took shelter in the homes of local residents. Others fled to the Magam police station, where they managed to contact colleagues in the capital, Srinagar, about 17 miles (30 kilometers) to the south. After these colleagues alerted BSF headquarters in Srinagar, BSF Deputy Inspector General R.P. Singh left immediately for Magam.
When D.I.G. Singh arrived at the police station, he asked the journalists there to take him to the scene of the attack and explain what had happened. A group of four journalists escorted him to the site and also began searching for any camera equipment that could be recovered.
The journalists were then approached by Deputy Inspector General A.K. Mallick, the local BSF commander. He told the journalists that they had no right to enter the area without his permission, and quickly became enraged when this was disputed. Mallick threatened twice to shoot the journalists, according to CPJ sources, before ordering his forces to attack them. Some 20 BSF soldiers then descended on the four journalists and bludgeoned them with rifle butts.
When D.I.G. Singh saw what was happening, he called a halt to the attack. But D.I.G. Mallick challenged Singh’s authority, saying “Who are you? This is my operational area.” Mallick then threatened once again to shoot all four journalists, accusing them of being “anti-national” Pakistan sympathizers.
The journalists returned to the safety of the Magam police station, by which time other officials had arrived from Srinagar.
Among the most seriously injured of the journalists was B. Kumar, a cameraman from Hyderabad-based Eenadu Television (ETV), who was severely beaten and thrown into a stream. Kumar suffered head injuries requiring 15 stitches, according to sources at ETV. Aijaz Rahi, a photographer for The Associated Press, received a hairline fracture to his knee when he was hit with a wooden board.
Other injured journalists included Sanam Aijaz of ETV, Merajuddin (who, like many Indians, uses only one name), a cameraman for Associated Press Television News, Syed Shujaat Bukhari, a correspondent for The Hindu newspaper, Nissar Ahmed Bhat, photographer for The Hindu, Reuters correspondent Sheikh Mushtaq and photographer Fayaz Kabli, S. Irfan of the Press Trust of India, Fayaz Ahmad of the United News of India, Naseer Ahmad of Zee TV , Bilal Ahmad Bhat of Asian News International, S. Tariq of New Delhi Television, Tauseef of Agence France-Presse, Javid Ahmad Shah of the Indian Express newspaper, and Sayed Muzaffar Hussain of the daily Srinagar Times.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ condemns this organized attack by the security forces against members of the Indian press.
CPJ respectfully asks you to make public the results of the BSF inquiry as soon as possible, and to guarantee that the officers responsible are punished to the full extent of the law. As you know, journalists play a vital role in informing the public about conflict and in monitoring possible abuses of state authority. This role must be preserved and protected.
We thank you for your attention to this matter, and look forward to your response.
Ann K. Cooper