Ashura Day Processions in Kashmir and Pakistan See Police Assaults and Bomb Attacks

On 19 August a bomb explosion ripped through a Muharram procession in the city of Bahawalnagar in Pakistan’s Punjab province, killing at least three people and wounding nearly 50. 

Image Credit: @umeerasif

NEW DELHI — Police assaulted journalists who were covering the Muharram procession of Shia Muslim mourners on Tuesday, the 8th of Muharram as per the Islamic calendar, in the city of Srinagar, the capital of Indian controlled Kashmir, local media reports and eyewitnesses said.

Videos that splashed on social media sparked outrage, which showed cops beating and chasing away journalists while they tried to click pictures of police action against mourners.

The police detained several Shia Muslim mourners who were carrying black flags to observe Muharram in the commercial hub of the city. The authorities had tightened the security in the area, police presence was increased, and roads were barricaded with coils of concertina wires.

Ruhullah Mehdi, a local politician from the Shia community, said in a Tweet on Wednesday that he was getting calls from parents that their sons have been held in police stations for taking part in the procession. He urged the authorities to release “innocent boys”.

“They are not criminals. They don’t deserve to be behind bars,” Mehdi said.

Muslims, mainly Shia Muslims, conduct processions in the Islamic month of Muharram to commemorate the sacrifice of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), in Karbala over 1400 years ago.

The visuals showed police firing tear gas shells and pellet balls on the procession to disperse the mourners. A local news website The Kashmir Walla reported that a youth was left half-blind when he was hit by pellets in his face.

“I was injured when pellets were fired at the procession near Jehangir Chowk,” he said in a hospital where he is now being treated. “I can’t see from my right eye.”

The use of pellets in Kashmir has sparked international condemnation. According to a 2020 Human Rights Watch report, pellets have blinded at least 120 Kashmiris between July 2016 and February 2019.

India has refused to budge to the pressure arguing that if pellet guns are withdrawn, police would be forced to use bullets. It’s not that bullets have not been fired on protests since the introduction of pellet guns in 2010.

Sajad Hameed, a photojournalist who was among those beaten up, described that a policeman kicked his colleague who was clicking pictures of mourners being detained by cops. He said that he was shocked and asked a police officer how he could kick a journalist like that.

“Instead of retreating, the police officer tried to choke my colleague with his baton but when I objected, it enraged him further and he started canning and abusing me. He also hit my camera and its lense broke apart,” Hameed told The Muslim Vibe.

The attack on journalists sparked outrage and prompted calls for action against the erring police officials. A journalist rights body in the region condemned the police action saying that the harassment of journalists (in Kashmir) has “become a routine”.

Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of the region, termed the attack on journalists “very unfortunate” as he said: “These people were simply doing their jobs – reporting the news. They don’t make the news and they don’t engineer events to create the story.”

Hameed said that the police assault on him and his colleagues showed “the claims of freedom of press in Kashmir are false”.  

“We are targeted because the police do not want us to show the ground reality,” Hameed alleged. “But I will not stop doing my work.”

The police action on journalists also evoked condemnation from International press bodies.

“Jammu and Kashmir police abused their authority today by attacking journalists who were simply doing their jobs and documenting an event of public interest,” said Steven Butler, Asia programme coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international media watchdog group, in Washington DC. 

Following the outrage, the region’s police chief described the action of his men as “undesirable behaviour” and issued orders of transfer of at least nine police officers reportedly as a punitive action for assaulting journalists.

Shia Muslims are a minority in South Asia, and often find themselves at the receiving end of violence from both state and non-state actors.

On 19 August a bomb explosion ripped through a Muharram procession in the city of Bahawalnagar in Pakistan’s Punjab province, killing at least three people and wounding nearly 50. 

The police authorities, reports said, launched an investigation to ascertain the nature of the explosion. In addition to this, mobile internet services were also suspended for hours in some places as a security measure on the eve of Ashura.

In Pakistan Shia Muslims, who constitute 20% of the population of 220 million people, have been attacked by hardline militant groups. 

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