Several journalists were attacked while covering protests against India's new citizenship law.
This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 19 December 2019.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by police violence against journalists covering a week-old wave of protests in India against the Hindu nationalist government’s Citizenship Amendment Act, which is widely seen as discriminating against Muslims.
The victims include two reporters, ThePrint news website’s Azaan Javaid and the NewsClick website’s Anees Zargar, who went to cover a protest on the campus of the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, on 17 December.
When Javaid began to photograph and film police arresting students, a police officer grabbed his phone. Javaid reacted by showing his press card and demanding the phone’s return, at which point two police officers insulted and beat him.
One of the policemen, identified as Rashid Khan, also attacked Zargar, who told RSF he was “targeted” because of a story he wrote a few months ago about police mistreatment of women in Kashmir. Khan told him this as he assaulted him, Zargar said.
“Instead of deliberately attacking journalists, the police must help to protect them so that they can cover events, including protests,” RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk said. “The Indian authorities must open an investigation into this unacceptable behaviour without delay, and must punish those responsible for the violence, who have been clearly identified.”
Attacks during protests in Delhi
Journalists have also been targeted in the Indian capital, New Delhi, where the victims have included BBC reporter Bushra Sheikh. Sheikh was filming a protest by students outside the prestigious Jamia Milia Islamia university on 15 December, when police grabbed her phone, broke it, pulled her hair and hit her with a baton.
Saheen Abdullah, a freelance reporter who was covering a student march on the Indian parliament the same day, was beaten by police with batons, sustaining bruising to a hand, a shoulder and his legs, and a bloodied nose. This attack happened when he tried to help an asthmatic student to leave the march. When Abdullah got into a rickshaw to go to hospital, the police attacked him again. “They tried to grab me and pull me out,” he told RSF.
The protests against the new citizenship law, which are mainly by members of India’s Muslim community, are some of the biggest that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has had to face since coming to power in 2014.
The situation of journalists in Kashmir has already been fraught since early August, when the Indian government repealed article 370 of the 1947 constitution, which gave the region a degree of autonomy. A series of unique video interviews in which Kashmiri journalists described their plight was published by RSF 100 days after article 370’s repeal.
India is ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.