Shahid Tantray, a Kashmiri journalist working with The Caravan, issued a statement on Wednesday, 8 June, alleging that the Jammu and Kashmir Police have been harassing him and his family since he reported on the 'crackdown' on press freedom following the abrogation of Article 370, and the army's role in nationalistic protest in the erstwhile state.
The reporter says that he has been receiving calls from the police, and has been threatened to be charged with false cases.
Tantray's statement, which was shared by The Caravan, has been addressed to Indian and international press bodies.
"I request you also to intervene, in the interest of protecting free and fair reporting and my right to practice my profession, without fear of repercussions for myself and my family," Tantray said in the statement.
'Scared That Police Would Pick Me Up and Harass My Family'
"On 23 January, while I was away from home for reporting, two policemen, including a beat officer, arrived at my home. They asked my younger sister, who was alone at home, where I was," his statement read.
His sister worriedly called him and conveyed the matter. "I asked her to give them my phone number so that they could speak to me directly. Before leaving the area, the police also asked several people in the vicinity about me and my whereabouts."
After reaching home at 8 pm that day, the journalist said that he started receiving calls on his phone. The first call was from a sub-inspector who was posted at Rangreth police post at the time.
"He asked me if I was the journalist Shahid Tantray and I told him I was. He asked me where I work, and I told him I work at The Caravan. He asked me several questions about my profession which I answered in a straightforward manner," the statement from the journalist said.
After that, the sub-inspector told him that an official from the Sadder police station wanted to speak to him.
Tantray asked the sub-inspector whether these phone calls had anything to do with his reportage, to which the police official said that it did not. "I was scared that the police would pick me up and harass my family for the work I was doing, and so, for the next few days, between 23 January and 1 February, I stayed away from home, with friends."
The journalist, while reporting on his story on the lack of press freedom in the Valley, had also sent official questionnaires to the J&K Police, the governor’s office, Intelligence officials, as well as other government officials.
The day his piece was published, the journalist said that the sub-inspector called him again and asked why he had published the story. He also urged him to have the story removed. "I told him that reporting such stories was my job. I said I had worked on this story for over eight months."
The official then inquired whether the story was filed before or after the police officer visited his house for questioning, to which Tantray replied that it was filed before, but the story was published later, as The Caravan is a monthly magazine.
'Stay in Kashmir, and You'll be Shot or Sent to Jail': Police Told Tantray
On 4 February, Tantray was called to the Rangreth police post, and was questioned by the deputy superintendent regarding his article. "They asked me to tell them how I had gathered different bits of my article, and asked me to disclose my sources."
The journalist told the police that he will not be able to reveal his sources as it was against journalistic ethics.
The police official told him that it was a matter of "politics," adding that the current situation in Kashmir was not good and "this was not Europe, where you can write anything."
The official further said that he had a long career ahead of him, and so he should not be doing "risky" work.
"The sub-inspector, on the other hand, told me that the police have several open FIRs related to drugs cases and threatened to arrest me in relation to those FIRs. He said it would be very simple to implicate me falsely."Shahid Tantray
The officers then put three options in front of him: the first was to stay in Kashmir provided he signs a written agreement to not write anything against the government.
The second option was to stay in Kashmir and continue writing pieces that "displeased the government," in which case, they said, he would either be "shot or sent to jail."
The third option was to leave Kashmir immediately, which Tantray opted for and left for Delhi.
Harassed for Tweets on Fellow Journalist's Arrest
"I told him it was common practice for a journalist to tweet about a development like this, especially as Mr Sultan was a part of the journalistic fraternity, like me," Tantray said, adding, "He said that he had received several calls from his seniors asking him to deal with me."
Tantray then spoke about another article he was working on, concerning the Indian Army's role in "organising nationalistic protests" in the Valley.
"I had reported this story before leaving Kashmir, and had found that, through such protests, the Indian Army was trying to establish a new generation of politicians and power-brokers in the Valley and project to an international audience that normalcy has returned to the valley after the abrogation of Article 370."
After the story was published, Shaheena Bhat, a corporator from Srinagar who had spoken to Tantray on record for the article, claimed that she had not met him at all. When she was reminded by Tantray of their meeting at the Srinagar Municipal Corporation office, she agreed to have met him, but alleged that she was not quoted accurately.
Tantray said that he still has the entire recording of the interview with Bhat along with notes from his reportage.
At the end of the call, she began threatening him by saying that she would send him to jail. "Chakki piswaungi," she told Tantray, as per the latter's statement.
The deputy superintendent then called his father to inquire about his whereabouts. "Tell us in half an hour whether he will come to Kashmir or if we should send a search party to Delhi," the official said to his father.
That night, The Caravan and Tantray sent formal letters to the deputy superintendent and the sub-inspector, as well as senior J&K police officers, asking whether there was an FIR pending against him.
"I also requested that he kindly share the copy of the complaint or FIR with me, as mandated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India as the right of any accused person," he said, adding that more than 24 hours had passed since he sent across formal letters and emails to the police, but did not receive any official acknowledgement or responses.
"From the statement of the above facts it is clear that, between my first story on the crackdown on the freedom of press in Kashmir and the second story on the Indian Army’s role in nationalistic protests in Kashmir, my family and I have been consistently harassed by the police," Tantray asserted in his statement.
Actions Against Tantray Reminiscent of '75 Emergency: Press Club of India
The Press Club of India (PCI) on Thursday, 9 June, slammed the alleged harassment meted out to Tantray by the J&K Police, saying that such incidents were reminiscent of the 1975 Emergency.
"Press Club of India strongly castigates J&K police for harassing Shahid Tantray. Tantray's reportage critical of the J&K government has invited the ire of policy makers," the PCI said in a statement.
They also called for an immediate enquiry to be conducted against the J&K Police for unleashing "criminal intimidation" against Tantray, and called for the latter to be reinstated as a reporter in Srinagar.
"We are deeply concerned about the depressing trends of a series of incidents of harassment and intimidation against journalists who are not toeing the government's line of thinking on public policy matters," the PCI said, and called for the intervention of the Centre and Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha into the matter.
The Srinagar Police, meanwhile, said that many "prominent persons" had filed complaints against Tantray for his article 'False Flags' in the magazine.
As per the complaints, the names in the copy are mentioned in a mischievous manner, akin to giving targets to terror groups.