New York, November 29, 2011--The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for an investigation into the November 25 attack on four journalists reporting on a protest in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
The journalists--AP Television News cameraman Umar Meraj, Al-Jazeera English online contributor Showkat Shafi, Getty Images photojournalist Yawar Kabli, and photojournalist Shahid Tantray for the Hindi-language daily Dainik Bhaskar--were covering a protest in the city of Srinagar when they were assaulted by paramilitary forces and the police, news reports said. Officials kicked and beat the journalists using their rifle butts, batons, and fists, witnesses said, according to news reports.
The journalists were reporting on a strike in which schools and businesses had been shut down to protest the alleged detention of dozens of protesting minors in custody. Kashmir has long been the site of separatist groups calling for independence from India or a merger with Pakistan.
"Security forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir consistently operate with an overly aggressive approach toward the media covering this important, long-running story," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "If the local police will not conduct an investigation into the incident, the state government must step in to examine the case."
AP South Asia Bureau Chief Ravi Nessman told CPJ that police accounts of the incident were inconsistent and gave evasive, defensive responses to his demands for an investigation. In an open letter calling for a transparent investigation, the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia reported that the police had not interviewed Meraj while investigating the incident.
AP Vice President and Senior Managing Editor John Daniszewski told CPJ in an email: "There was no justification for this attack and no question that he was a journalist. Rather, this appears to have been simply violence and intimidation for its own sake. What makes this incident even more outrageous is that Mr. Meraj and his father Meraj Uddin Dar had been subjected to a similar police attack last year while covering the events in Kashmir. The authorities in Kashmir should take steps immediately to curb these and similar deeds of impunity against journalists, or they share in the legal and moral responsibility for these actions."
The police report of the incident said: "The allegations leveled by the media persons were found to be baseless and concocted."
In August, CPJ that two photojournalists had been beaten by police and detained for several hours while covering a protest that escalated into a violent clash between youth and government forces in Srinagar. In July 2010, CPJ called for national authorities in India to address complaints from local journalists in India-controlled Kashmir who said they were prevented from covering the government crackdown on protests that killed 15 people.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The original version of this alert has been updated to include a quote from The Associated Press.