SRINAGAR: Police on Tuesday lathicharged and thrashed a group of journalists covering a Muharram procession here, evoking criticism from various quarters.
Police also detained a few Shia mourners at Jehangir Chowk in the city as they tried to take out a procession to mark the eighth day of the 10-day Muharram mourning period.
The traditional Muharram procession used to pass through the areas of Abi Guzar, Lal Chowk and Dalgate areas, but has been banned since the eruption of militancy in 1990 as authorities maintain that the religious gathering has been used for propagating separatist politics.
Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar said police respects the religious sentiments of the public, but at the same time, it is their joint responsibility to defeat the ill designs of vested interests who try to disturb the peaceful atmosphere.
As the media personnel, mostly photo and video journalists, were discharging their professional duties, police swung into action and lathicharged them, the scribes said.
They said the policemen, armed with batons, also thrashed some of the journalists and caused damage to their equipment.
The pictures and the videos of the incident were uploaded on various social media forums as the journalists protested the police action.
A senior police officer reached the spot and assured the journalists that he we will look into matter.
Kashmir Press Photographers Association (KPPA) condemned the use of force by police.
"KPPA terms the action unjustified and uncalled for. It is highly unfortunate that the police was thrashing the photojournalists (and stopping them) from performing their professional duties," a statement from the photojournalist body said.
The Kashmir Press Club condemned the assault and demanded action against the concerned policemen involved in the incident as well as sensitisation of the police force to ensure media freedom is respected.
Observing that the journalists were performing their professional duty, it said in a statement that the police action was uncalled for and unfortunate.
"The club reiterates that the police authorities need to respect the freedom of the press as enshrined under the Constitution and ensure strict disciplinary action against the guilty policemen involved in the incident," the statement said.
Meanwhile, leaders cutting across political lines too denounced the incident.
National Conference (NC) vice president Omar Abdullah said the police action was unfortunate and expressed hope that Jammu and Kashmir LG Manoj Sinha will ensure such incidents are not repeated.
"Very unfortunate to see J&K police personnel mercilessly thrashing journalists in Srinagar. These people were simply doing their jobs - reporting the news. They don't make the news & they don't engineer events to create the story. I hope @OfficeOfLGJandK will ensure no repeat," Abdullah said on Twitter.
He also demanded that an independent photojournalist be compensated for the loss after his equipment was damaged allegedly in the police action.
"He's an independent photo-journalist. His camera is his livelihood. The administration owes it to Sajad to compensate him for the loss he has suffered while working," the NC leader said.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti also took to Twitter to highlight the issue.
"Media is spending hours debating the human tragedy and unfolding crisis in Afghanistan but will they speak up for their own community in Kashmir who were beaten to pulp today by security forces for doing their job?" Mufti tweeted.
The Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) termed the thrashing of media persons as "unfortunate".
Media is fourth pillar of democracy and the routine coverage as part of its professional obligation must be allowed, they should not be intimated while performing their duties, the party said in a statement.
JKPCC feels disappointed over the thrashing of mediapersons, who were covering Muharram procession and expresses its full solidarity with the media fraternity, it said.
The party urges the government to ensure that mediapersons are allowed to perform their duties, without any fear, it added.
The Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Conference (JKPC) led by Sajad Lone too condemned the police action.
"Merciless beating of journalists is highly condemnable. We express serious concern over such repeated acts of use of force on the media fraternity without any accountability. Surprisingly, the upholders of the law are out to demolish the founding principles of law," the JKPC said in a tweet.
Apni Party senior vice president Ghulam Hassan Mir termed the thrashing of mediapersons as undemocratic.
In a statement issued here, Mir said media is the fourth pillar of democracy and the coverage of routine happenings is a part of their professional obligation that must not be dissuaded with the use of force or any sort of intimidation.
"Today's incident in which journalists allege that they were thrashed by police while doing their duty is extremely unwarranted. These journalists were performing their usual professional duties. These kinds of occurrences need to be stopped as it taints democratic ethos of our country," he said.