‘Never faced such harassment anywhere; it is really difficult out here for journalists’
Srinagar: After spending three nights and four days inside a police lock-up, French journalist and documentary filmmaker Comiti Paul Edward, 47, said it was only in Kashmir that he had faced this sort of harassment.
“I have worked in conflict zones around the world. I have covered the Middle East. I have covered Iraq, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Afghanistan, Congo, Mexico, South America. But this is the first time I was arrested, harassed. My belongings were confiscated and I was put in a lock-up,” said the award-winning journalist who resides in Paris.
“Once in my career, I was detained for a short time by the Israeli authorities. However, within no time they released me after verifying my credentials and passport. They also returned my equipment. But what happened with me here has made me sad to the core,” Edward told Kashmir Reader.
Edward was released by the police following a court bail late Tuesday evening. He had been arrested on Saturday from Srinagar’s Pratap Park, on charges of violating visa rules. Police said he was booked under Section 14B of the Passport Act and he was lodged in Kothibagh police station.
Giving details about his proposed documentary film in Kashmir, the journalist said he was doing formative research for a documentary film assigned to him by the M6 TV channel of France.
“I was given a business visa by the Indian embassy. I came here to do some preparation before the arrival of the crew and technical staff to shoot the film. It was a preparatory tour. I had with me a small handy-cam. But the day I landed in a local hotel here, the secret police started following me wherever I went. They would often call my friends to know my whereabouts,” Edward told Kashmir Reader.
To prepare for the film, Edward said he visited different areas of the state and talked with many military officials. He said he was planning to meet police officials as well.
“It could not mature,” he said of the plans. “On Saturday, I was standing at the press enclave with my friends. The video journalists there told me that an activist, Ahsan Untoo, was about to hold a protest in the nearby (Pratap) park. Being curious, I hopped along with them. I was just standing there. I was not shooting anything. A policeman in civvies came and told my friend that the chief of security wanted to meet me. He asked him to bring me to the security boss’s office. Later, I began having a headache and went back to the hotel. The security officials continuously called my friend, asking him to bring me to their office for a meeting with their boss.”
Later, Edward said, he had no option but to meet the security officer at the Foreigners Registration Office in Srinagar.
“We had a long argument there. They said I was violating visa rules and they issued a prohibitory order,” he said. “The chief of security called the uniformed police. They arrested me and took me to the police station where I spent three nights and four days in the lock-up.”
Edward said the police also went to his hotel room in Rajbagh and searched his room and his belongings.
“They took away my passport, my handy-cam, some electronic devices including my mobile phone,” he said. “It made me very sad. I was not doing anything illegal. I had a proper business visa. I was not working yet but just preparing for the upcoming film project.”
The journalist said that the French consul had arrived from Delhi to Srinagar and was seeking the release of his passport and other belongings from the authorities.
He said the proposed documentary was about Kashmir and its various facets.
“I wanted to be just a witness in the film. I was not taking any stand. I wanted to talk to everybody, including the police and the army. I wanted to speak about infiltration, about the fallout of Al-Qaeda like ideologies in Kashmir. I would have also talked about people, about the pellet victims. I would have asked the police why they were using pellets against the protesters. In other words, it was a complete Kashmir story,” Edward said.
Edward said he now felt that the authorities were trying to stop the Kashmir story from reaching a wider international audience.
“The international media is stopped from reporting here,” Edward said. “They do not want the happenings in Kashmir to be known internationally. They do not want it to be covered.”
The French journalist said he felt “shocked” for the people of Kashmir. “After this harassment I feel shocked for the people of Kashmir. I feel shocked for the journalists and the people who work here. It is really difficult out here,” he said.