The trials and tribulations of Kashmiri journalist Shahid Tantray

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Shahid Tantray

‘I would either be shot or sent to jail’ Seeks helps of International and Indian press organisation

New Delhi: Faced with a life threat, Kashmiri journalist Shahid Tantray spoke out on Wednesday about his continuing harassment by authorities in Jammu and Kashmir. He sent a letter to the international and Indian press bodies and organizations seeking their help.

Tantray is a multimedia reporter for Delhi-based Caravan magazine who has recently covered important stories from the Kashmir valley, including the crackdown on press freedom in Kashmir and the army’s role in regional nationalistic protests. He is facing continued harassment by the Jammu and Kashmir police.

Being a Kashmiri journalist, Tantray narrated his travails.

The officers then said I had three options in front of me.

They said my first option was that I could stay in Kashmir if I gave them a written agreement that I would not write anything that goes against the government.

The second option was that I could stay in Kashmir and continue writing pieces that displeased the government, in which case, they said, I would either be shot or sent to jail.

They said the third option was that I leave Kashmir immediately.”

Every Kashmiri journalist’s story these days is the same. These are the only three choices they have.

On behalf of The Caravan editorial team, Haripriya KM, Editorial Manager, The Caravan released  Shahid Tantray’s lengthy statement to the media.

Kindly see attached statement

STATEMENT BY THE CARAVAN JOURNALIST SHAHID TANTRAY ON FACING HARASSMENT BY J&K POLICE

Date: 8 June 2022

Dear Sir/Madam,

“I am a multimedia journalist with The Caravan in Delhi, where I have been working for nearly six years. In this time, I have reported from several states, including Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh, and on a wide variety of subjects, from communal violence to caste discrimination, to electoral politics, and the COVID-19 pandemic. In January 2022, I was in Srinagar to report stories commissioned by the editors of The Caravan, on the crackdown on journalists in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, as well as the Indian Army’s presence and role in the region.

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. My sister was worried—she immediately phoned me and said the police had come. 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.

I reached home at 8 pm that day after reporting and began receiving several calls on my phone. The first call was from a sub-inspector who was posted at the 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. After that, he told me that an official at the Sadder Police Station wanted to speak to me. I said he can share my number with the official who can call me directly. He said that since the official was his senior, he could not do that and asked me to call the official directly instead.

Over the phone, I asked the official what the problem was and why his officers were visiting my house and enquiring about me. He said there was no problem. He said that he had received a list of “prominent people” in the area from “senior officers” and was asked to enquire about them all. He said this was why he had asked the sub-inspector to call me. I asked him if this was related to the reporting I had been doing. He said it was 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. In keeping with journalistic practice, in late January, I had sent official questionnaires to the J&K police, the governor’s office, Intelligence officials, as well as other government officials, for my story on the media crackdown in Kashmir.

 The article on media crackdown was published on 1 February. In over ten thousand words, it extensively covered the J&K administration and the police’s attack on freedom of press in Kashmir in recent years, following the abrogation of Article 370.

For the piece, I spoke to a multitude of people, including reporters, editors, media researchers, writers and political observers. The day the piece was published, the sub-inspector called me again on the Signal application and asked me why I had published the story. He asked if there was a way for the story to be removed. I told him that reporting such stories was my job. I said I had worked on this story for over 8 months. He asked me if the story was filed to the editors before or after policemen had visited my house and questioned my sister. I told him I had filed it before that but the story was published on 1 February because The Caravan is a monthly magazine. He said okay, and cut the call.

On 3 February, the J&K police called one of my friends and asked him to inform me that I was to go to the Rangreth Police Post. I went to the Rangreth Police Post on 4 February, at around noon, along with one of my colleagues. I was made to wait outside the police station for two hours, then three police officers arrived. They were the official from Sadder police station, a deputy superintendent of police, and the sub-inspector. The first two were sitting on chairs but the sub-inspector asked me to stand to the side. After a few minutes, the deputy superintendent asked me to sit. Then, the police officials started questioning me about my piece. They asked me to tell them how I had gathered different bits of my article, and asked me to disclose my sources. The officers asked me about individual lines in this story, asking why I wrote a certain line or who a certain anonymised source in the piece was. I told them I will be unable to reveal my sources as that is against common journalistic ethics and could endanger my sources’ safety.

The deputy superintendent, who was friendly during the interaction, told me that this was a matter of “politics,” which is why they had to question me. He said, “The current situation in Kashmir is not good” and that “this was not Europe, where you can write anything.” He told me I have a long career ahead of me and 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. He said, “Every security agency is after you.” He told me I should get married and that would help me “cool down.”

The officers then said I had three options in front of me. They said my first option was that I could stay in Kashmir, if I gave them a written agreement that I would not write anything that goes against the government. The second option was that I could stay in Kashmir and continue writing pieces that displeased the government, in which case, they said, I would either be shot or sent to jail. They said the third option was that I leave Kashmir immediately. I told them I will leave Kashmir and go to Delhi. They asked me when I was leaving for Delhi, and I said I would leave in two days, on the coming Monday, 7 February 2022.

  After this, the sub-inspector asked me to bring my 55-year-old father to the police station to give a written bond stating that I would not write anything that went against the government. I told him that my work had nothing to do with my family and that it was wrong of him to bring our personal and family lives into what was happening professionally. He insisted that I bring my father but finally relented when I assured him that I was leaving Kashmir on Monday. After this, they let me go from the police station. I left for Delhi on 7 February.

On 10 April, the Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan was booked under the PSA shortly after being granted bail in a previous case. I tweeted about the news development. The sub-inspector called me and asked me why I had tweeted about Mr Sultan. 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. He said that he had received several calls from his seniors asking him to deal with me. Over the call, he again repeated everything he and his colleagues had told me in person—that this was not Europe and that I should get married. He also said that “Kashmir is a police state.”

After returning to Delhi, I had begun writing the draft of the second story The Caravan editors had commissioned, on the Indian Army’s role in organising nationalistic protests in Kashmir. 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. While reporting the story, I had met with the organisers of such protests, national-security experts, as well as retired members of the military establishment in Kashmir. My piece was published on 1 June 2022.

On 3 June, Mrs Shaheena Bhat, a corporator from Srinagar, who had spoken to me on record for the story, called me. I have the entirety of the recording of this call. In the call, Mrs Bhat initially claimed that I had not met her at all. After I reminded her that I had met her at the Srinagar Municipal Corporation office on 12 January, she agreed that I had met her but continued to say that she was not quoted accurately. I had taken notes of my reporting from that meeting and still have them available. I told her I had only written what she had told me, in keeping with journalistic ethics. She asked why the story’s headline was “False Flag.” After that, she asked me why I tweeted the story. I said it was only common practice for journalists to tweet their own stories.

At the end of the call, she began threatening me, saying, “chakki piswaungi”—that she would get me sent to jail.

Shortly after this, an army official I had mentioned in the piece called me four times. I could not answer his calls at the time.

On 4 June, my father received a called from Rangreth Police Post, asking him to come there. When he went there, the sub-inspector told him that the deputy superintendent wanted to meet him. My father then went to meet the deputy superintendent at a nearby police station.

The deputy superintendent asked my father about my whereabouts. My father said that I was on a reporting assignment in Delhi. On 5 June, the deputy superintendent again called my father to ask about my whereabouts. He then told my father, “Tell us in half an hour whether he will come to Kashmir or if we should send a search party to Delhi.”

Shortly after that, The Caravan’s political editor Hartosh Singh Bal called the deputy superintendent and informed him that I was on a reporting assignment in Delhi. Mr Bal also asked about why he was enquiring as to my whereabouts. Upon being asked, the deputy superintendent did not reveal any details. He told Mr Bal, “We don’t have to tell you… We know where to find him.”

The same night, my organisation The Caravan and I sent formal letters to the deputy superintendent and the sub-inspector, as well as senior J&K police officers including Mr Dilbagh Singh (DGP), Mr Vijay Kumar (IGP) and Mr Rakesh Balwal (SSP Srinagar). In the emails, I detailed the deputy superintendent’s recent inquiries. I asked whether a formal complaint or FIR was pending against me.

I also requested that the deputy superintendent share the relevant details, including the complaint or FIR number, Sections invoked, allegations against me, as required under the law. 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. I further said that, if he required me to join an investigation, that he kindly issue me an appropriate notice under Section 41A, CrPC. Upon receipt of the same, I said I would join the investigation and cooperate fully. My organisation sent copies of these letters via post as well. At the time of typing this statement, over 24 hours since sending the emails, I was yet to receive any official acknowledgment or responses to my letter.

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. I wish to bring this to your kind notice and attention, and request you to take cognisance of the stated facts. 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. Thank you.

Regards,                                        Shahid Tantray                     Multimedia Reporter

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