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For Immediate Release
July 9 1996

Vikram Parekh
(212) 465-1004, x109

Indian-backed Militia in Kashmir Abducts and Detains 19 Journalists for Over Seven Hours

CPJ Terms Militias a Threat to Press Freedom, Calls on Indian Authorities to Disarm Them

NEW YORK--The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today denounced the July 8 kidnapping and detention of 19 journalists in Kashmir by an Indian-backed counter-insurgency militia. The journalists, who were released unharmed Monday evening, had been held as hostages by the militia to secure a meeting with the editors of Kashmir's leading newspapers.

"Militias sponsored by the Indian government have abducted journalists on three occasions over the past year, and have been implicated in at least one assassination attempt," said Vikram Parekh, CPJ's Program Coordinator for Asia, who visited the strife-torn state last year. "If India's new leaders are at all committed to press freedom, they must immediately act to disarm these militias," he added.

The 19 journalists were traveling together from Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, to a press conference that had been called by the Muslim Mujahideen, one of several Indian-backed militias in the region. They were intercepted at Anantnag, a town 50 km (35 miles) south of Srinagar, by gunmen of another Indian-backed militia, the Jammu and Kashmir Ikhwan, and taken to the nearby headquarters of Ikhwan commander Hilal Haider.

Haider segregated six journalists who worked for the Kashmiri press: reporters Gulzar Ahmed and Abdul Qayoom of the Urdu daily Uqab, Masood Ahmed of the Urdu daily Wadi-ki-Awaz, Shujaat Bukhari of the English-language daily Kashmir Times, Zahoor Shair of the Urdu daily Al-Safa, and photographer Maqbool Sahil of the Urdu weekly Chattan. He said all six would be killed unless the editors of Srinagar's eight major daily newspapers appeared before him by noon the following day. The eight editors had disregarded a "ban" that Haider had ordered on their newspapers the previous week for having given the Ikhwan inadequate coverage. The editors, who were informed of the threat by phone, said they would not heed the summons.

Haider told the other 13 journalists‹mostly correspondents for the Indian and international press‹that they were free to leave. The thirteen, however, insisted on staying until their colleagues were released as well. Seven-and-a-half hours after the abduction, and following protests to Indian authorities by journalists in Srinagar, an elite commando unit known as the Rashtriya Rifles intervened and secured the release of all 19 journalists.

The kidnapping occurred the same day that Indian Home Minister Indrajit Gupta announced that the government would hold long-deferred state assembly elections either this September or October. The elections had been called off last fall by the Indian Election Commission, on the grounds that conditions in the state were unsuited to free and fair polling. Along with several other counter-insurgency militias, the Jammu and Kashmir Ikhwan had fielded candidates in the controversial federal parliamentary elections held in Kashmir last May.

"It is difficult to see how the Indian government plans to hold free and fair assembly elections when the contestants are expected to include members of armed groups that routinely harass and intimidate the press," Parekh said.

Earlier attacks on the Kashmiri press are documented in detail in CPJ's 1995 report, On a Razor's Edge: Local Journalists Targeted by Warring Parties in Kashmir. Based in New York, CPJ is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of journalists dedicated to upholding press freedom worldwide.

A list of all nineteen journalists detained on July 8 by the Jammu and Kashmir Ikhwan follows.

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