New Delhi, February 19, 2020—Jammu and Kashmir police have summoned three journalists this month, including photojournalist Kamran Yousuf, who was questioned about social media activity, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. In January, after a lengthy communications shutdown in the region, the Indian government restored access to under 1500 “white-listed” websites, not including social media.
Yousuf, who works for news website Newsclick, was detained for two hours on February 16 following a nighttime raid on his home in Pulwama district, according to local news reports citing the Kashmir Press Club. Naseer Gani of the weekly Outlook magazine separately told CPJ he and Haroon Nabi of the Current News Service agency were detained in Srinagar for four hours on February 9. The pair were questioned for publishing and circulating a statement by a banned separatist political party, according to the Indian Express and the Hindustan Times.
Local police said this week that they would investigate the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) to access social media under an anti-terror law after video of a separatist leader circulated online, according to Outlook and the Indian Express.
“In these critical times in Jammu and Kashmir, police must stop harassing and questioning journalists and allow them to do their jobs without fear of reprisal,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher in New York. “Instead of treating social media access as a crime, the Indian government should lift all remaining internet restrictions and let journalists get back to work.”
The Jammu and Kashmir police spokesperson did not immediately respond to CPJ’s text message requesting comment.
In a statement to the Kashmir Press Club that was cited by Scroll.in and other news outlets, Yousuf said that police surrounded his home at around 11 pm on February 16. After he accompanied them to the police station in Pulwama city, police searched his phone and accused him of operating a Twitter account, before releasing him at about 1 am, according to the news reports. In 2018, Yousuf was held for seven months in relation to an ongoing sedition charge that CPJ considers retaliatory for his work.
Gani told CPJ that police questioned him about the source of the statement he published and briefly seized his phone and laptop during his February 9 detention. They asked him how he could publish a banned organization’s statement, and took down his relatives’ names and locations, he said.
CPJ reporting shows journalists in Kashmir have been operating in a state of crisis since August 2018, when the Indian government imposed a complete communication shutdown in the region. In January, a Supreme Court ruling affirmed that freedom of speech through the medium of internet was constitutionally protected.