Kamran Yousuf is a journalist

It has now been more than five months since the photojournalist Kamran Yousuf was arrested by the National Investigation Agency. The NIA has charged him with stone-pelting  and mobilising support against security personnel through social media, the charges vehemently denied by his family. Also, NIA has contended that Yousuf was not a journalist as he didn’t cover the government development activity like “any inauguration of Hospital, School Building, Road, Bridge, statement of political party in power or any other social/developmental activity by state government or Government of India”. Such utter lack  of understanding of the journalism on the part of the country’s premier investigation agency is horrifying.  For according to NIA definition, hardly anyone in the world would qualify as a journalist.

The role of a journalist is to ask questions and hold the powers that be accountable. It is about telling truth to power. It is about reporting, articulating and helping people make sense of the prevailing state of affairs in the most objective manner possible.  A journalist is the first witness to history and is the first to report it. A photographer more so. He captures the events and incidents as they break. And this is what Yousuf was doing, covering the extraordinary situation in the state for the people of J&K, the country and the world at large. And he did it with a youthful passion, often at great risk to himself and for a pittance.  

He was picked up by the NIA for doing his work diligently. At least, this is what the NIA  makes clear through its chargesheet against him. Naturally, there has been a criticism of the NIA’s handling of the case by the various national and international journalist organizations. The Committee to Protect Journalists has sought immediate release of  Yousuf and termed NIA’s definition of a journalist "way out of its league".  In a statement CPJ's Asia programme coordinator Steven Butler has termed Yousuf’s work “a public service in the best spirit of journalism”.

Similarly, Kashmir Editors Guild has too sought the immediate release of Yousuf, saying he was a photographer who worked for various media outlets.  The Guild said that even though the investigators have probed almost all angles of Yousuf’s supposed involvement, nothing has been proved as the charge sheet suggests. It will be therefore in the fitness of things if he is set free and allowed to resume his work.

In Valley, the arbitrary arrest of Yousuf and his lingering detention has generated anxiety about the NIA’s ever broadening remit in the security affairs  of the state, enabling it to take action even against the alleged stone pelters and those posting stuff on social media.  This state of affairs has turned the state government into little more than a spectator.  This is only generating further disaffection among the people. It would really help the matters if Yousuf is released.  His continued detention is not only prolonging an inherently unjust situation but also further undermining the faith in Valley in the country’s law enforcement agencies in regard to their approach to Kashmir.





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