"India's National Investigative Agency is way out of its league and has no business defining what 'a real journalist' should cover," says Steven Butler of Committee to Protect Journalists, seeking release of Kashmiri photojournalist Kamran Yusuf.

Kashmiri photojournalist Kamran Yusuf was formally charged on January 18 with sedition, criminal conspiracy, and attempting to wage war against India.
Kashmiri photojournalist Kamran Yusuf was formally charged on January 18 with sedition, criminal conspiracy, and attempting to wage war against India. (Instagram)

The Indian investigative agency is "way out of its league" and has no business defining what "a real journalist" should cover, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said, seeking the immediate release of a photojournalist imprisoned in India-administered Kashmir.

Freelance Photojournalist Kamran Yousuf, 23, has been imprisoned since September 5, 2017 over alleged stone throwing charges. 

"India's National Investigative Agency (NIA) is way out of its league and has no business defining what 'a real journalist' should cover," said Steven Butler, CPJ's Asia programme coordinator. 

"Kamran Yousuf's work taking photographs of conflict... is a public service in the best spirit of journalism. He should be freed immediately," Butler said.

Anger has mounted in the disputed region since the NIA arrested Yusuf, accusing him of throwing rocks on the Indian soldiers and police during clashes - a charge denied by the region's journalism guilds, his colleagues and family. 

The NIA charged him on January 18 with sedition, criminal conspiracy, and attempting to wage war against India. 

Not "a real journalist"

The intelligence agency claimed before a court that Yusuf was not a "real journalist" because the he had not covered "developmental activity of any government department" or "inauguration of a hospital or a school" or "statement of any political party in power," The Indian Express reported on Thursday. 

His work shows his intentions "to only cover the activities which are anti-national and earn money against such footages," the NIA documents allege.

The video footage pertains to massive anti-New Delhi demonstrations and months-long violent clashes in 2016 after Indian soldiers killed a popular rebel commander Burhan Wani.

His death sent tens of thousands of protesters into Kashmir’s cities and villages, beginning a cycle of protest-and-crackdown that left nearly 100 civilians dead — most killed by government forces — and hundreds injured or blinded. 

Yusuf rose to popularity when his photographs and videos were regularly featured in local papers and social media. 

"They (NIA) don’t have any evidence against him. If it's a crime to cover events in South Kashmir, including police and government functions, then all Kashmiri journalists and photojournalists should be booked," his uncle told The Wire.

His next hearing is expected on Monday. 

Kashmir celebrated July 8Th 2017, as the first death anniversary of Burhan Wani- the slain Hizb Commander from Shareef Abad Tral. My intentions were professionally very clear: I had to cover the commemorating event that was to be organized at his native town- Tral. So to avoid any hurdles I decided to make my stay at Pulwama only in the intervening night of 7th and 8th July as the journey from my native village could have possibly delayed my journey. The big day came and I commenced my journey on my Bike as usual but the roads were absolutely desolated. At every nook and cranny, there were government forces to tackle any prospected law and order situation and they were allowing no one to sneak on the roads leading to Tral. I was disheartened at this and I said to myself that I won’t be able to reach there, as the entire landscape presented a curfewed view. But I kept my pace and rode through link roads, apple orchards, paddy fields and after walking around eight kilometers on foot, I finally reached to my destination; I was in Tral. Tral a town otherwise flooded with people was deserted and there were forces all around. They had erected barbed wires everywhere even the wafts of air were frisked and disallowed to move forward. I was absolutely frightened at this sight and hesitantly I drew my camera out of my bag and clicked some photographs of the main market.  Then, I headed to the graveyard where Burhan’s mortal remains lay buried and clicked some photos there before I was chased away a big mustached cop.

A post shared by Kamran Yousuf (@kamran_yousf) on

Media targeted frequently

Last year, Indian police arrested a French journalist for filming in the disputed region. 

"I almost felt like I was in North Korea. It was as if they had so much to hide that they just do not want any international media here," Comiti Paul Edward told an Indian news outlet after his bail.

In 2016, two local journalists were targeted with pellet-firing shotguns by the Indian soldiers, one of whom was partially blinded. 

India is ranked 136 in the World Press Freedom Index 2017. 

According to the Reporters Without Borders findings, reporting from sensitive conflict zones such as Kashmir is increasingly difficult for journalists, where internet connectivity is often snapped and reporters targeted. 

Protest violence is an almost daily occurrence in India-administered Kashmir, where anti-New Delhi sentiment runs deep among the mostly Muslim population after decades of military crackdowns in the mountainous territory. 

The region, claimed by both India and Pakistan in its entirety, has sparked two of three wars between the nuclear-armed nations since 1947.

Kashmir has also seen nearly 100,000 people die since 1989 in a homegrown rebellion and the ensuing Indian crackdown, which has suppressed rebel groups in recent years.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies