Former Jammu and Kashmir minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Singh has warned Kashmiri journalists to draw a line between reporting facts and supporting terrorists or face the fate of Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari, who was shot dead by militants.
Singh's statement drew condemnation from the Kashmir Editors Guild and the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference.
The party said this was a brazen attempt to muzzle the media in Kashmir and that his "open threat" merited "immediate cognizance" by the state police.
"Kashmiri journalists have created an erroneous atmosphere and I would like to ask them to draw the line," Singh had told reporters in Jammu on Friday.
"You want to live like what happened to Basharat (Shujaat Bukhari)... Take care of yourselves and draw a line so that the brotherhood is not broken and it is maintained so that progress and development (of the state) is ensured,” he said.
In a tweet on Saturday, the BJP MLA said, "There is need to draw a line between reporting facts and supporting terrorists and their sympathisers. Misinterpretation has become a norm and reporting facts a rarity. Journalistic freedom is absolute but not at the cost of nation and nationalism."
Singh, who has started a campaign for a CBI probe into the Kathua rape-and-murder case after resigning from the previous PDP-led government in April, has over the past few months blamed the media, especially Kashmir-based journalists, for creating a “wrong perception” about the January incident.
Singh and his colleague Chander Prakash Ganga had resigned on April 13 over their participation in a rally allegedly in support of the accused in the gang rape and murder of the eight-year-old girl in Kathua district.
“We resigned because the perception created by the national media was not good. It portrayed the situation in a wrong way, which was not the case at all. It was portrayed that the entire Jammu region was siding with rapists," he had earlier claimed.
Condemning the former minister's remarks, a spokesman of the Kashmir Editors Guild (KEG) said in a statement, “Singh, who was earlier being termed as a serious sufferer of foot-in-mouth disease, has moved way ahead and issued a direct threat to the media in Kashmir.”
"Singh's statement indicates that he holds some information about Bukhari's murder and must be investigated. KEG reserves the right to lodge a police case against the lawmaker who, earlier as well, named a number of reporters for his fall from grace in wake of the Kathua probe, now in a trial stage," the guild said.
Bukhari and his two personal security officers were shot dead by unidentified gunmen outside the newspaper's office in the heart of Srinagar on June 14.
Reacting to the remarks of the BJP leader, the National Conference termed it as “outrageous” and said it merited immediate cognizance by the state police.
“National Conference strongly condemns the outrageous remarks and threatening of Kashmiri journalists by BJP leader and MLA Chdaudhary Lal Singh. This merits immediate cognizance by the @JmuKmrPolice. We hope the law isn't subverted – party spokesperson,” the party said in a tweet.
Earlier, NC vice president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah wrote on his Twitter account, “Dear journalists, your colleagues in Kashmir just got threatened by a @BJP4India MLA. It seems Shujaat's death is now a tool for goons to use to threaten other journalists.”
“This was a brazen attempt to muzzle the media in Kashmir. Lal Singh's open threat to the media fraternity in Kashmir had exposed an intolerant, vituperative and criminal mindset that threatens to subvert freedom of speech and democracy in the state,” NC spokesperson Junaid Azim Mattu said in Srinagar.
“We condemn this outrageous threat in the strongest of terms. It should be treated as a criminal attempt to incite violence against journalists and the J&K Police should register an FIR under the relevant statutes of the law. There is absolutely no legal excuse for inaction in this case and an attempt to brush this under the carpet would be unacceptable and will discredit both the writ of the administration and also muzzle free speech in the state,” the NC spokesperson said.
Mattu said, “He harbours a strong sense of vengeance against the media fraternity in the state who exposed him and his colleague that eventually resulted in his resignation being sought. BJP has failed to take action against Singh despite repeated instances of him crossing the red line and trying to vitiate the atmosphere in the state."
"A continued failure to take action against him would amount to the BJP being complicit in his statements and actions," he added.