New Delhi, October 15, 2021 — Authorities in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir must immediately release journalists Salman Shah and Suhail Dar, cease detaining and questioning journalists in relation to their work, and commit to allowing the media to operate freely and independently, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Since October 8, authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have detained four journalists, subsequently releasing two of them, and questioned one other, according to various news reports and other people familiar with the incidents, who spoke to CPJ via phone.
The five journalists are:
- Salman Shah, editor of Kashmir First, the online weekly magazine of the privately owned news website The Kashmiriyat
- Suhail Dar, a freelance journalist contributing to the privately own news website The Kashmiriyat and the privately owned Urdu-language newspaper Sach News
- Mukhtar Zahoor, a freelance journalist contributing to the BBC
- Majid Hyderi, a freelance journalist and commentator
- Sajad Gul, a freelance journalist contributing to privately owned news websites The Kashmir Walla, Maktoob Media, and Mountain Ink
Authorities formally arrested Dar and Shah yesterday, and both remain detained at Anantnag district jail, according to news reports and family members of the two journalists, who spoke to CPJ via phone. Yesterday, a local magistrate ordered Shah and Dar to remain detained for two days, according to The Kashmir Walla.
“India needs to move quickly to improve its shameful record of harassing and detaining critical journalists in Jammu and Kashmir in a complete abandonment of India’s once-proud tradition of press freedom,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Police must immediately release Salman Shah and Suhail Dar and allow journalists to do their jobs without fear of reprisal.”
On the evening of October 8, authorities summoned Dar to the Sadder police station in Kashmir’s Anantnag district for questioning before detaining him, according to news reports and Dar’s brother, Tariq Dar, who spoke to CPJ via phone. Tariq Dar told CPJ that the police had not informed the family of any reasons for his brother’s detention.
Separately, at approximately 7:00 p.m. on October 12, officers with the Sherbagh police station in Anantnag district detained Shah from his home in the Sheerpora area of Anantnag district for questioning, according to The Kashmir Walla and his brother Imran Shah, who spoke to CPJ via phone. Imran Shah said that his family had not been informed of any police investigation into Shah until his formal arrest yesterday.
Both journalists have been detained under two sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure that allow authorities to hold an individual in preventative custody on an executive magistrate’s order to prevent a “breach of peace,” and to prevent the commission of cognizable offenses, according to The Wire.
Tariq Dar and Imran Shah told CPJ that they have not received a copy of a police report detailing the accusations against Dar and Shah.
Masrat Mir, the station house officer of the Sadder police station, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment on Dar’s ongoing detention sent via messaging app. Majid Nadeem, the station house officer of the Sherbagh police station, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment on Shah’s ongoing detention sent via messaging app.
Shah was previously detained from April 5, 2020, to May 8, 2020, on accusations of violating a section of the Indian penal code pertaining to “statements conducing to public mischief,” according to The Kashmiriyat, citing Shah and his lawyer.
Separately, at approximately 12:30 a.m. on October 13, officers with the Ram Munshi Bagh police station detained Zahoor from his home in the Dalgate area of Srinagar and confiscated his camera and his sister’s phone, according to various news reports citing Zahoor and his family.
Zahoor told The Kashmir Walla that he was detained overnight and later questioned about his location on September 1, the same day that a 91-year-old Kashmiri separatist leader died in the city of Srinagar, leading authorities to shut down the internet in Kashmir valley and increase security patrolling in the area. Officers also questioned him about the photos on his phone before releasing him at 2:00 p.m. later that day, Zahoor told The Kashmir Walla.
Tauseef Meer, the station house officer of the Ram Munshi Bagh police station, told The Kashmir Walla that authorities were questioning Zahoor on the basis of an unnamed “suspicion.” Meer did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment on Zahoor’s detention and questioning sent via messaging app.
Separately, on October 13, the Special Operations Group, the anti-insurgency unit of the Jammu and Kashmir police, summoned Majid Hyderi for questioning at its headquarters in Srinagar, according to The Kashmir Walla and Hyderi, who spoke to CPJ via phone.
Upon arriving at the headquarters, Hydrei was asked to relinquish his phone, but refused to do so, and subsequently switched off his phone upon request, according to the journalist. Hyderi told CPJ that three men in civilian clothing questioned him about his source of income and choice of profession before demanding explanation for three of his Facebook posts. Officers specifically questioned Hyderi for approximately one hour about a post in which he criticized the police’s use of force against participants of Muharram processions earlier this year, he said.
After the questioning finished at around 1:00 p.m., Hyderi was kept in lockup until his release around 5:30 p.m., he said, adding that he was not allowed to offer two Muslim prayers during the questioning and during his detention.
Iftikhar Talib, the superintendent of the Special Operations Group, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment on Hyderi’s questioning and detention sent via messaging app.
Separately, October 13, officers with the Hajin police station in Kashmir’s northern Bandipora district summoned Gul for questioning in relation to his news report in Mountain Ink and a video he posted on Twitter regarding a Kashmiri man who was killed in a police encounter on October 11, according to The Kashmir Walla and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via phone. Gul told CPJ that he was questioned for approximately one hour about his journalistic activities.
Zahid Malik, senior superintendent of police of Bandipora district, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment on Gul’s questioning sent via WhatsApp.
In February, Jammu and Kashmir police opened an investigation into Gul on accusations of taking part in an illegal demonstration against home demolitions, as CPJ documented. Gul told CPJ at the time that he denied participating in such a demonstration.
Dilbag Singh, the director general of the Jammu and Kashmir police, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment on all five cases sent via messaging app.
[Editor’s Note: The third paragraph has been updated to correct the freelance affiliations of Dar and Gul. The eighth and ninth paragraphs have been updated to reflect the correct law and sections under which Shah and Dar have been detained.]