Sheikh Imran Bashir
Srinagar: The seizure of newspapers and alleged harassment of journalists today came up for discussion in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly following which the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah apologised to the scribes.
“I apologise to the journalists,” Omar said while responding to the issue of harassment raised by National Panthers Party (NPP) member Harsh Dev Singh, CPI (M) MLA M Y Tarigami and Independent MLA Hakeem Mohammad Yaseen during a discussion before Question Hour.
Police today seized copies of newspapers published from Srinagar and allegedly detained the hawkers, while three scribes were beaten up as they were on their way to the Assembly complex.
The Chief Minister said there have been some unpleasant incidents with the journalists but these have occurred due to the prevailing situation in the Valley.
He asked the journalists to bear with the difficulties as preventing loss of life and property was of prime importance.
Commenting on the seizure of newspapers, he said two vehicles carrying newspapers were seized by police station Kothibagh to check if the dailies carried any inflammatory material in the wake of the Ayodhya verdict yesterday.
“Personally, I believe it was not necessary (to seize newspapers). I have asked the Director General of State Police (Kuldeep Khoda) to ascertain who was responsible for it and he will submit a report within 24 hours,” Omar said.
The Chief Minister said there was no truth in allegations that newspaper offices or printing presses were raided in the wee hours today.
Earlier, NPP member Singh said the measures taken by the state government were reminiscent of the emergency days (1975) as all papers have been seized and hawkers detained.
He said it was ironic that suppression of information was taking place in the times of RTI and Right to Know.
Tarigami said he failed to understand the police move to seize the newspapers when people had access to 24-hour news channels which carry all the statements and information.
“What is going to be achieved by curbing the print media when most of the middle class has access to private TV news channels?” he said urging the government to hold a meeting with the editors of local newspapers to bridge the gap with the fourth estate.
Yaseen said the curbs on free press were against the principles of National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, who had envisioned a vibrant media in his “Naya Kashmir” dream.
While Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was answering the queries of legislators on the media gag in the Kashmir Valley in the Legislative Assembly on Friday morning, few kilometers away policemen were ‘assaulting’ a group of journalists who were on their way to the cover the session.
Reports and eyewitnesses said that senior video journalist of Associated Press (AP) Mehraj-ud-din, his son Umer Mehraj and CNN-IBN Bureau chief, Mufti Islah were on their way to the state assembly to cover the proceedings of the 8-day session that started yesterday, when policemen intercepted them near Baghat, Barzulla. The cops not only misbehaved with the journalists, but also ‘thrashed’ them with batons and gun butts.
Due to police beating, Mehraj-ud-din, a senior video journalist of the Valley was admitted to the Bone and Joints Hospital.
Interestingly, Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah was responding to the questions raised by legislators on the seizure of daily newspapers by the government when the journalists were being roughed up by cops.
Narrating the ordeal, Umer said that he and his father were on way to the Assembly when a posse of policemen intercepted them near Baghat. The cops, he said refused to entertain the curfew passes issued by the district magistrate.
“All of a sudden, a sub-inspector asked his subordinates to chase us away. They (cops) abused and thrashed me as if I was a stone thrower. They didn’t even spare my father,” a shocked Umer told Agence India Press.
“We tried to get into the car to save ourselves from the cops wrath. However, the cops surrounded our car and started beating us again,” he added.
Umer said that a police official visited us at the hospital and asked us to give a written complaint so that an enquiry into the incident could be carried out.
Inspector General of Police (IG) Kashmir, Sri Murari Sahai said that he was not aware of the Chief Minister’s statement in the state assembly on the media gag. “We follow the instructions of the government,” he added.
Pertinently, media has being under severe attack since the present unrest began with the killing of a teenage student Tufail Ahmad Matoo on June 11.
Dozens of journalists were thrashed by troops and police and prevented from offering their professional duty.
Last week, the newspapers resumed their publication after week-long gag following assurance by the state authorities that curfew passes issued to newspaper employees would be entertained by the forces.