India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) — a counter-terrorism law enforcement agency — has outlined what Kashmiri journalists should report on in a court response that was issued after the arrest of 23-year-old Kashmiri photojournalist Kamran Yousuf.
Yousuf worked as a freelance photojournalist for many local dailies including Greater Kashmir, the largest circulated daily in the valley, and MunsifTV, an English-language news channel. He was best known for his gutsy approach to covering the intensifying hostility between security forces and civilians in the Kashmir valley.
Despite campaigns from journalists and international human rights organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Yousuf has been in jail since September 2017. Indian officials accuse him of being part of an international terrorist group that plans to wage war against Indian security forces in the Kashmir valley. He was arrested in Kashmir's Pulwama district and flown into New Delhi.
#Freelance Kashmiri photojournalist Kamran Yousuf, 23, has been in jail in #India since September. He faces a possible death sentence for his coverage of conflict in the region https://t.co/HtpwXBRotI
— Rory Peck Trust (@rorypecktrust) February 20, 2018
In their statements in front of the court, officials claim that Yousuf is not a real journalist and go on to include a definition of the role of a journalist in their charge sheet:
Had he been a real journalist/stringer by profession, he may have performed one of the moral duty of a journalist which is to cover the activities and happening (good or bad) in his jurisdiction. He had never covered any developmental activity of any Government Department/Agency, any inauguration of Hospital, School Building, Road, Bridge, statement of a political party in power or any other social/developmental activity by the state government or Govt of India.
Notably, NIA's website has no mention of Kamran Yousuf, even in the ‘Arrested Person in custody of NIA’ list.
For decades, Kashmiri journalists have faced interrogation, threats, and intimidation. Some Kashmiri activists who publicly condemned the security forces’ high-handedness and use of pellet guns have been silenced with threats. Even international journalists who attempt to report on Kashmir have faced deportation and have been banned from entering India.
The contradictory nature of the charges clearly shows that Kamran Yousuf is being used as a scapegoat in order to intimidate journalists who try to document the situation in #Kashmir.#FreeKamranhttps://t.co/wrctXapjti
— Parlina Aida (@parlinaida) February 21, 2018
Yousuf was imprisoned in September 2017 but was formally charged on January 18, 2018 with criminal conspiracy, sedition and attempting to wage war against India.
Kamran has spent over 150 days in unjust NIA custody, despite South Kashmir police chief said there is no FIR or complaint registered against Kamran in any police station.#FreeKamranhttps://t.co/EwBpjH6GCU
— Parlina Aida (@parlinaida) February 17, 2018
In its charge sheet, the NIA also points out that Yousuf's failed to report on the Indian army's civic accomplishments. In their charge sheet, they accuse Yousuf of harbouring ‘intentions to only cover activities which are anti-national and earn money against such footages’.
In an attempt to discredit Yousuf as a journalist, the NIA also points to Yousuf's lack of official media training from any institute; however, his lawyer Warisha Farasat claimed Yousuf had fulfilled all the criterions listed to be a journalist.
Meanwhile, Yousuf's family is distraught by the numerous charges that have been leveled against their son including being a stone-pelter. This charge, which the family vehemently denies, carries a heavy weight in the region. Many people associate both stone pelting and the subsequent retaliation from police forces with the greater socio-political conflict affecting Kashmir.
Yousuf's family and friends refute the government's allegations and say he was an earnest freelance photojournalist who simply wanted to carve a niche through his work. Kashmiri journalists have protested against NIA's arrest and its opaque investigations, citing charges have been fabricated against Yousuf for his work covering anti-governmental protests and militant activities.
Yousuf's supporters speak out to demand justice
After Yousuf's arrest, former employer Greater Kashmir disowned Yousuf and even refused to call him a journalist — a move that many felt came as the result of government pressure. The local journalism community was quick to criticise the move and jump to Yousuf's defense. Most notably, co-worker and freelance journalist Junaid Bhat wrote on Facebook:
I'm Junaid Bhat from Sopore, North Kashmir and I was affiliated with the Kashmir's leading newspaper Greater Kashmir. I was attached as a contributor for the said organisation, now after GK disowned my colleague Kamran Yousuf, I have decided to quit the organisation. So hereby I'm informing everyone that I will no longer be part of Greater Kashmir newspaper from now.
Others asked why other journalism associations haven't done more to protest Yousef's arrest. Associated Press photojournalist Altaf Qadri wrote on Facebook:
I feel ashamed to be part of a fraternity which only protests or raise their voice when a particular set of journalists are targeted. Kamran was targeted because his photographs from the South Kashmir from the spots of violence rattled the authorities. Because it challenged their narrative. Charges of stone pelting can be leveled against anyone, but it doesn't mean that he is guilty. This seems to be another way to control media. I honestly fail to understand why is Kashmir Editor's Guild, which came into being to address exactly the same issues faced by journalists, has not called for a protest or at least issued a statement. How about Kashmir Press Photographers Association? Or have we already accepted the charges leveled against Kamran? Today it is Kamran, tomorrow it could be YOU.
Muzammil Jalil wrote on Facebook:
We need to stand up for Kamran and if nothing more, we can at least demand to know what is the evidence against him. Taking pictures, shooting videos, being at the spot are all legitimate journalistic activities. That is no crime.
Yousuf's uncle Irshad Ahmad was quoted by Scroll.in as saying:
If it was the local police, we would have known whom to approach and how to deal with this. But this is the NIA, he is not even in Kashmir. Where do we go?
We would sometimes tell him not to work hard and cover every event given the situation in the valley, but he wanted to keep working. It was his passion […] he deserved to be appreciated and encouraged, not arrested and booked under false charges.
The Asia program coordinator of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Steven Butler said:
India's National Investigative Agency is way out of its league and has no business defining what ‘a real journalist’ should cover. […] Kamran Yousuf's work taking photographs of conflict in Jammu and Kashmir is a public service in the best spirit of journalism. He should be freed immediately.
Meanwhile, CPJ's Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said:
Indian authorities must stop trying to crush the independent press in the Jammu and Kashmir region. Authorities should immediately release Kamran Yousuf.
The Kashmir Editors’ Guild said:
The pathetic standards of journalism that NIA aims to thrust is not just childishly naive but also reflect a dangerous conspiracy to disempower the fourth estate. If [the] NIA does not understand the basics that separate PR [public relations] from journalism, it puts its own investigating capabilities into question.
Just wanted to add an update that Kamran Yousuf was released on bail https://cpj.org/2018/03/india-releases-photojournalist-kamran-yousuf-on-ba.php