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Wave of police violence hits journalists

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is extremely shocked and disturbed by a wave of police violence against journalists in Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It has registered a total of 13 cases of abusive treatment and physical attacks by police against media personnel in February alone.

"Given that a police officer was recently suspended for hitting a Dalit woman in the state of Uttar Pradesh, it would be appropriate to punish police officers who treat journalists in a similar manner," Reporters Without Borders said. "Public opinion was shocked by the footage of this woman being beaten."

The press freedom organisation added: "We appeal to the federal government and authorities of the states concerned to investigate this unacceptable violence and to urge the security forces to act with more restraint. In Kashmir, in particular, it is no longer enough for those in charge of the police to promise investigations. The abuses must be punished."

Reporters Without Borders also urges the Uttar Pradesh police to quickly produce hard evidence to justify the continued detention of Seema and Vishwavijay Azad, the founders of the Hindi magazine "Dastak Nai Samay Ki", who were arrested on 6 February on the basis of allegations that they belong to an outlawed Maoist movement.

"The state police can target anyone who raises their voice against the government," said Sandeep Pandey, a well-known social activist, who has criticised their detention. "I have been told that Seema had been writing against sand mafia and land mafia here," he added.

Kashmir Times photographer Imran Ali was injured by a tear-gas grenade fired by police during a demonstration on 22 February in Srinagar, the capital of the northwestern state of Jammu and Kashmir. S. Tariq, a cameraman with the television news station NDTV, and Umar Ganai, a photographer working for the PTI news agency and the "Kashmir Monitor" newspaper, were beaten during the same demonstration.

At least six journalists were beaten by members of an elite police unit known as the Greyhounds during pro-separatist demonstrations on the Osmania University campus in Hyderabad (in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh) on 14 and 15 February. The victims included Narsinga Rao of Andhra Jyothi TV, who was beaten with particular ferocity by members of the police unit, who also attacked and damaged press vehicles.

A local reporter for the Kannada TV station was beaten on 13 February by police in Mangalore (in the southwestern state of Karnataka) and was then held in a police station for two hours. Police Sub-Inspector Pramod denied that the reporter was beaten, claiming that he was detained for "rude behaviour" and was released as soon as his identity was established.

Pervez Majeed, correspondent for "Sahara" magazine, was threatened and roughed up by a senior officer of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on 3 February in Srinagar after he told them he intended to write about a case of police violence against school children he had just witnessed. The officer insulted Majeed and then told his men to "teach him a lesson." Majeed reported the incident to the police chief Kuldeep Khuda, who promised an investigation.

In another recent case in Srinagar, a police officer opened fire on Amaan Farooq, a photographer with the "Greater Kashmir" daily newspaper, injuring him in the leg, as he was covering a police operation on 6 January. The police officer, Safdar Samoon, said Farooq refused to leave the scene of a clash with separatists. The Kashmir police chief ordered an investigation.

A Kashmir court ordered local TV stations not to broadcast "provocative" or "anti-government" video footage of major demonstrations that took place in the state on 5 February. Judge Meraj Ahmad ruled that such self-censorship was authorised by article 6 of the 2005 law governing the regulation of cable television.

In an encouraging development, the National Human Rights Commission ordered the Uttar Pradesh authorities on 9 February to pay compensation to Samiuddin Neelu, a journalist with the Hindi newspaper "Amar Ujala", who was kidnapped and threatened by police officers in 2005 after writing about police corruption and abuse of authority. "This case is a stark example of not only total apathy but also outright antagonism towards a person, whose right to life was seriously endangered," the commission said.

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