Streaming videos inflame passions in Kashmir

BY MOAZUM MOHAMMAD| IN Digital Media | 09/04/2017
Youths posting videos of clashes and urging people to help militants escape presents a new problem for the security forces
MOAZUM MOHAMMAD reports even as internet is suspended again

Moin BIlal on Facebook Live


Srinagar: On March 28, a video showing the police stopping an ambulance carrying the body of Zahid Rashid at Srinagar’s Jehangir Chowk went viral on social media. It was streamed live on Facebook. Rashid was killed at Chadoora in Budgam district when a gunfight was on between government forces and a Hizbul Mujahideen militant.

When the family was ferrying the 20-year-old boy’s body to his home from SMHS Hospital, the policemen stopped the ambulance on the pretext that it would galvanize public anger. “Asalaam-u-alakum mera bhai shaheed ho gaya hain. Aap dekra he hain Kashmir mein kitna zulm chalra ha hain. Hum azadi chahte hain. Amblance ke chaabi le inhune,” said Moin Bilal, a cousin of Zahid’s and a Class 10 student, frantically as the mobile he was shooting the video with shook in his hand.

“I was feeling helpless when police stopped the ambulance. I took out my phone and shot the video live on my Facebook page to raise voice against the injustice,” said Bilal. The video drew hundreds of shares and became a symbol of “oppression” faced by the people in the Valley.   

"I was feeling helpless when police stopped the ambulance. I took out my phone and shot the video live on my Facebook page to raise voice against the injustice."

According to Bilal, the police seized his Samsung J2 mobile moments after they learnt about the video going viral. “They took away my phone when I was bundled into a vehicle. But no video could be found in my phone as I had used the Facebook Live feature to reach to people,” he said.  

Another video posted on social media from a gunfight site in Kulgam showed people moving towards the encounter site to help militants escape by throwing stones at the forces deployed in the cordoned off areas. Amid the protests, a youth who was at the front said he received a bullet in his leg. Cries of Allah-o-Akbar resonated throughout the video while people carried the injured youth to hospital.

The aim of going near conflict sites is to help holed up militants escape. At several places, it has succeeded, prompting the Army chief to issue a threatening statement by calling protestors going near these sites, "overground" workers.

"We upload videos from protest site to highlight our cause across the globe."

In January, three Kashmiri Hizbul Mujahideen militants were killed in a gunfight in Pahalgam. The holed up militants shot a video while the security forces cordoned them off. “Don’t tell this house owners about (that they tipped off the forces) anything. We will fight. Don’t be worried,” said the trio in the video before being gunned down.

After Wani was killed last year, local people attacked the house in Kokernag where he was killed following a rumour that the owner had tipped off the forces about Wani’s presence. By releasing the video, the Pahalgam militants wanted to ensure the house owner was not to be blamed for their killing.

“We upload videos from protest site to highlight our cause across the globe. It also allows people living nearby to participate in the protests,” said a youth pleading anonymity because of the fear of reprisal.

Streaming such videos online is rampant whenever a gunfight or protest erupts in the Valley. It is emerging as a new challenge for the government while it battles  a young breed of militants. This new reality has forced the police to launch a crackdown against such people. 

Director General of Police Shesh Paul Vaid told The Hoot that they are identifying people and registering cases against them for uploading such content. A police spokesperson said they have made some arrests and registered cases in three police stations for sharing threatening posts on social media.

“It was reported and found that some videos and posts were uploaded and shared to harm the repute of some professionals and officers,” said an official handout issued on April 4.

In militancy-hit Pulwama in Southern Kashmir, 100 people were detained for cases ranging from sharing “instigating” videos to false rumours. One of them was found to be running more than 70 Whatsapp groups, said Pulwama Superintendent of Police Rayees Mohammad Bhat.

“It is a serious issue for which government has to intervene and adopt some stringent measures to plug this phenomenon,” another senior official said.

The ruling PDP, however, said they have no problem with the videos as long as they are not “instigating”. “As long as it is not lethal we have no problem. But it should not instigate and create negative mindset. We are not going to stop it but it is not advisable for kids to highlight violence,” said PDP youth president Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra.

The opposition National Conference’s youth president Salman Sagar, however, disagrees with Parra as he believes that streaming videos unleashes protests. “The easiest option available for the government is an Internet blackout. But that won’t serve the purpose,” he told The Hoot.

Last year, the government shut down the Internet about 10 times, including a six month long ban on prepaid Internet services, according to The reason for blocking access to information and the right to free speech was the public protests triggered by Wani’s death on July 8, 2016. 

The telephony and Internet shutdown came in handy for the government in 2016 to quell protests without worrying about freedom of speech or the economy. But denying access is a breach of human rights as per a United Nations resolution declaring that online freedom must be protected and promoted.

And even as this article is published, the Internet has been shut down again in Kashmir on account of the by-elections.

The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring.
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