Troops attack journalists at a civilian funeral in Kashmir

New York, May 10, 2001 — Seventeen journalists were attacked today by Indian security forces as they attempted to cover a funeral procession in the troubled Kashmir region.

The incident occurred in Magam, a town about 17 miles (28 kilometers) north of the state capital, Srinagar. Three of the journalists were hospitalized and thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment was destroyed, according to local and international news reports.

On May 9, Magam was the scene of a suicide bomb attack on an Indian Border Security Force (BSF) camp. Eleven people died in the bombing, including one BSF soldier and two alleged separatist militants.

The journalists were covering the funeral of three civilian victims when they were attacked.

The journalists claimed they were beaten with rifle butts and batons at the instigation of a BSF officer. The journalists retreated to a police station, where they lodged formal complaints. The Associated Press reported that that BSF inspector-general G.S. Gill had apologized for the attack. Indian authorities also promised to launch an investigation, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI).

“The investigation must be carried out,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Punishing the soldiers who are responsible for this attack is vital if journalists in India are to maintain their freedom to report on matters of national significance.”

The most seriously injured journalist was B. Kumar, a cameraman for southern India’s Enadu TV, who suffered a gash to his head after being thrown into a roadside stream. AP photographer Aijaz Rahi received a hairline fracture of his knee when he was hit with a wooden board.

An AP television cameraman, Merajuddin (who, like many Indians, uses only one name) was also wounded.

The other injured journalists included S. Irfan of PTI, Fayaz Ahmad of the United News of India, Naseer Ahmad of Zee TV, Shujat Bukhari and Nissar Ahmad Bhat of The Hindu, Bilal Ahmad Bhat of Asian News International, S. Tariq of New Delhi Television, Tauseef of Agence France-Presse, Sanam Aijaz of ETV, Javid Ahmad Shah of the Indian Express, and Sayed Muzaffar Hussain of the Urdu daily Srinagar Times, according to PTI.

Kashmir has been the scene of frequent strife between Indian police, military and paramilitary forces, local separatists, and international guerillas backed (to a disputed extent) by Pakistan. Some 30,000 people are commonly estimated to have died in the conflict since 1989. Last August 10, Pradeep Bhatia, a photographer for the Hindustan Times, was among at least 12 people killed in a bomb attack in downtown Srinagar for which the Pakistan-based militant group Hezb-ul Mujahedeen claimed responsibility.