India cops accused of beating AP cameraman, others

AP News
Posted: Nov 25, 2011 11:03 AM
India cops accused of beating AP cameraman, others

An Associated Press cameraman and at least three other journalists said they were assaulted by police and paramilitary forces Friday as they covered a protest in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Umar Meraj was beaten for several minutes by security forces using rifle butts, batons, fists and a barrage of kicks, according to Meraj and other witnesses.

Local journalists have repeatedly complained of harassment and assaults by police in the tumultuous Himalayan territory. Meraj was assaulted by police at a checkpoint in its main city of Srinagar last year along with his father, Meraj Uddin Dar, also an AP journalist.

Umar Meraj was covering a strike Friday that closed businesses and schools in the region to protest the alleged detention of young political protesters and stone throwers. Separatist protesters routinely take to the streets in Kashmir, calling for independence or merger with Pakistan.

Police said most of the minors had been arrested on charges of rape, murder and other crimes and released on bail.

Clashes broke out during a demonstration in downtown Srinagar and Meraj and two other journalists fled into an alley, the men said. Police and paramilitary forces entered the alley from both sides and began assaulting the journalists, Meraj said.

He fell to the floor and nearly lost consciousness during the assault, he said. Photographer Yawar Nazir, who said he was also beaten, said troops dragged Meraj back onto the main road where other security officials rushed to join in the assault. Freelance photographer Showkat Shafi was also beaten by security forces in the alley, the men said.

The security forces also grabbed Meraj's camera and hit it with their guns and batons as well, destroying it, Meraj said.

After the assault, Meraj was left battered and vomiting by the roadside, where an AP photographer found him. He was admitted to the hospital, where he underwent tests for internal injuries.

A fourth journalist covering the rally, a photographer for a Hindi newspaper, was assaulted by security forces in another area and then detained, according to witnesses.

Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah told AP he would look into the incident.

A police statement issued after the assault said security forces had "exercised maximum restraint" in the face of stone throwing at the rally, but eventually gave chase to protesters.

"Some photojournalists, who had intermingled with the crowd to cover this subversive activity, got trampled down by the fleeing miscreants," the statement said.

In August, Shafi and a Mexican photographer said police beat and detained them while they were covering a street protest. Doctors confirmed the photographers were badly bruised. Reporters Without Borders accused paramilitary forces of beating up 12 journalists covering a demonstration last year.