New Delhi, February 22, 2021 — Authorities in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir must drop their investigations into the work of journalists Yashraj Sharma, Mir Junaid, and Sajad Gul, and allow them to report without interference, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On January 30, police in the state opened criminal investigations into Sharma, a reporter at The Kashmirwalla news website, and Junaid, a reporter at The Kashmiriyat news website, for alleged incitement, according to various news reports and Fahad Shah, editor-in-chief of The Kashmirwalla, and Qazi Shibli, news editor of The Kashmiriyat, both of whom spoke to CPJ in phone interviews.
On February 12, Jammu and Kashmir police opened an investigation into Gul, a freelance journalist who contributes to The Kashmirwalla, for allegedly taking part in an illegal demonstration against home demolitions, according to Gul, who spoke to CPJ via phone, and news reports.
“Journalists Yashraj Sharma, Mir Junaid, and Sajad Gul should be allowed to do their jobs without harassment, intimidation, and criminal investigations from Kashmiri authorities,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher. “Jammu and Kashmir Police must drop their investigations into all three journalists and stop targeting journalists because of their reporting.”
The investigation into Sharma and Junaid concerns reports they published on January 27 in The Kashmirwalla and The Kashmiriyat, which each quoted the chairperson of a school in the southern Kashmiri city of Shopian, who said Indian Army authorities had pressured the school to celebrate Republic Day, according to Shah and Shibli. After those articles were published, the school issued a statement denying that it had received pressure from authorities, according to the news website Scroll.in. Shah told CPJ that The Kashmirwalla outlet stands by its story.
The investigation is based on a complaint filed to police by an unnamed army official, who accused Sharma and Junaid of spreading “fake news,” which poses “serious concerns for security of [the] region as they can cause riots & create problems for law & order situation for public & armed forces,” according to a copy of the complaint reviewed by CPJ and Scroll.in.
The complaint accuses the journalists of violating Sections 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code. The complaint also accuses The Kashmirwalla and The Kashmiriyat, as corporate entities, of the same offenses.
Both Shah and Shibli told CPJ that their reporters were not given copies of the complaint, and they found out about the police investigation through social media. If charged and convicted, Sharma and Junaid could face up to three years in prison under Indian law.
On February 2, a court rejected Shah and Sharma’s petition for pre-emptive bail, which would exempt the journalists from detention during the investigation, and both are now petitioning Jammu and Kashmir High Court, Shah told CPJ.
The investigation into Gul stems from an article he published on February 9, in which residents of Hajin, a town in Bandipora district, in north Kashmir, alleged that local government official Ghulam Mohammad Bhat had threatened them and forcefully demolished their homes, Gul told CPJ.
Gul said he believed the local authorities filed the complaint opening the investigation on Bhat’s instruction. In a text message to CPJ, Bhat denied having any role in filing the complaint.
The complaint alleges that Gul took part in an illegal demonstration opposing the demolitions on February 10, where he allegedly threw stones and shouted slogans, according to the journalist.
Police are investigating Gul for violating Sections 147 (rioting), 447 (criminal trespass), and 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) of the Indian Penal Code, according to the journalist and The Kashmirwalla.
Gul denied partaking in such a demonstration, and told CPJ that he was in Srinagar, about 40 miles from Bandipora, on February 10.
Gul also told CPJ that the police had not given him a copy of the complaint, and have merely mentioned the counts on which he is being investigated. If charged and convicted, Gul could face up to two years of imprisonment under Indian law.
CPJ contacted Amritpal Singh, senior superintendent of police for Shopian, Colonel K. Arun of the army’s Additional Directorate General of Public Information, and Sajad Malik, police deputy superintendent of Hajin, for comment via messaging app, but did not receive any responses.