The Jammu and Kashmir Police on Saturday served a show-cause notice to The Wire, asking the news website’s editor-in-chief to explain why action should not be taken against them for allegedly misrepresenting facts and circulating concocted stories.
“Such news articles has [have] caused fear and alarm among the people at large and that tend to malign the image and demoralise the police/security forces working in the region,” said the notice by Kashmir Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar.
Siddharth Varadarajan, The Wire’s founding editor, told Scroll.in that the news organisation has not received a notice from the police. “The ‘notice’ shows what a poor understanding the J&K Police have of the Constitution and the functioning of a free press,” he added.
The first article that the police was referring to was published on June 28, headlined, “They have destroyed my family: J&K cop, wife and daughter gunned down by militants in Pulwama”. Two Jaish-e-Mohammad militants fired at Special Police Officer Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, his wife and daughter after barging into their house on June 27.
While the policeman and his wife, Raja Begum, died on the same night, their daughter, Rafiya Jan, succumbed to her injuries the next day at a Srinagar hospital.
“In recent times, many SPOs have resigned from service after facing threats from the militants while some have even joined the ranks of the militancy,” The Wire article said.
However, Kumar said that this was incorrect and deceptive information. “Under the circumstances when security forces in the region are working day [and] night to combat and eradicate the menace of terrorism in the Valley such false narrative and statement without any figures based upon presumption and assumption are prejudicial to the interests of the security of the nation,” he added.
The police said The Wire’s claim was also not verified by security agencies in the Valley. “Pertinently in the year 2021, there has not been a single incident where [a] SPO has joined terrorist ranks or left the job,” the notice added.
The second article, published on June 7, was headlined “Genuine encounter or custodial killing: What really happened to Md Amin Malik at Tral SOG camp”.
Citing a Jammu and Kashmir police spokesperson, the article said Malik was an “active militant” who was killed in an encounter after he snatched an AK-47 rifle of constable Amjad Khan and fired indiscriminately. Khan was also “critically injured” in the incident, the spokesperson claimed, according to The Wire.
Kumar, however, in the show-cause notice claimed that the police had never termed Malik as an “active or categorised terrorist”, adding that this was “mischievous misrepresentation of facts” meant to malign security forces.
“Pertinently, [the] executive magistrate was present on the site and witnessed the efforts made by the police to bring his mother on site and persuade the armed accused to surrender,” the show-cause notice said.
The article in The Wire said that Malik’s mother was taken to the Special Operations Group camp in Tral on June 2 to convince her son to surrender the rifle. But, she could not confirm if her son was present at the site as she was made to sit in the police vehicle only. Despite her repeated attempts, she did not receive any response from Malik.
The next day, Malik’s brother Zahoor Ahmad said he had received a phone call from a relative saying his brother was killed in police custody, The Wire reported.
Malik’s family also contested the police claim that he was arrested. “It is a lie that Malik was arrested,” Ahmad told the news website. “The fact is that we, his family, had taken him to the police station because they had told us he needed to be questioned. If Malik had plans to join the militancy, then he would not have handed himself over to the police.”
In the notice, Kumar insisted that Malik was arrested based on a first information report and that all mandatory procedures were followed.
The Wire article mentioned the police spokesperson’s version of events that Malik was arrested on May 30, while pointing out the claims made by his family that he was in police custody since May 29.
Kumar also objected to The Wire’s purported “mixing of facts with opinion of some unknown experts”.
A former central paramilitary force officer told the news website that the police version of the incident was unbelievable. “They would like the nation to believe that even as a terrorist had launched a murderous assault on a constable, they were still thinking in terms of getting him to surrender on the appeal of his mother?” he added. “This shows that the operation, if at all conducted, was a most unprofessional one.”
A former Intelligence Bureau official also said it seemed like a fake encounter if the sequence of events narrated by Malik’s family was correct. “Perhaps, the poor fellow died during interrogation and the whole story is being made up,” he said.
Kumar, however, said The Wire story seems to have conducted a “media trial”, which is against the spirit of law. “Pertinently, such concocted news write-ups also instigate the youths in the region to join terrorist ranks which is prejudicial to the security of nation,” he said.
He asked the editor-in-chief to explain within a week why a formal complaint should not be filed before the Press Council of India in the case.
Last month, the Uttar Pradesh Police filed an FIR against The Wire and two of its journalists for allegedly spreading false information and trying to create religious animosity through a video about the demolition of a mosque in Barabanki district in May. This was the fourth FIR filed by the Uttar Pradesh Police against the news organisation in 14 months.