By HENRY L. KHOJOL, TNT News | Aizawl/Hailakandi, March 13, 2018:
The Deputy Commissioner of Assam’s Hailakandi District Adil Khan on Monday said he will order a magisterial inquiry into the alleged attack on journalists from Mizoram by the Assam Police during a border standoff with students of the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) at Zophai paddy field, 3 km from Bairabi town on the Mizoram-Assam border last week.
Khan’s decision came after some media, including national media houses and zoramobserver.com, reported that journalists from Mizoram, who went to Zophai where the border standoff took place, were chased and brutally thrashed by Assam policemen and para-military forces as they were covering the event and doing ground report. However, journalists from Assam, who were doing the same were protected and not attacked, sources said.
Khan had, however, ruled out that journalists were attacked and he said the forces were “using only mild force” to thwart an attempt by MZP activists to construct a resting shed in a disputed area.
When challenged with reports about the assault on journalists and students by Assam Police, Khan told this reporter associated with ‘The Telegraph’ that he was not present on the spot and that he might “have been misinformed”.
“I was given information by the officers who were present on the spot. We all respect freedom of the press and the journalists. Nobody was allowed to be harsh with journalists. I will get the matter enquired,” he said.
Media reports earlier quoted Khan as saying that his administration had “exercised utmost restraint” and used “bare minimum force to disperse” the student activists.
Denouncing Khan’s remarks, MZP activists and journalists, who were present on the spot said Assam Police not only used extreme force but also opened fire towards the crowd. One of the activists was shot in the leg.
Khan’s clarification was also rubbished by media reports that allegedly stated that he was present on the spot and that he gave firing order to disperse the students who were peacefully attempting to construct a resting shed on a plot of land that was given to them by Lalrothangi – wife of Mizoram’s first chief minister (L) Ch Chhunga.
Some video footages that went viral on social networking sites clearly indicated that the Assam police and para-military forces used extreme force, chased the students including journalists and thrashed them mercilessly.
There were also gunshots sound from the video footage, while some victims also showed their bruises and wounds on their facebook post.
The incident occurred on Thursday (8 March) and Saturday (10 March), when around 100 students and local volunteers attempted to construct a wooden resting shed on the land.
The incident of attack on journalists surfaced in the national media when Embassy Lawbei, a reporter of News18 took to Instagram and Facebook narrating her ordeal and slamming the Assam Police. “Hey Assam police, we are journalists who came to do ground reporting. We were unarmed, our only weapons were camera, pen and notepad, yet you beat us black and blue and your fire shot at us,” Lawbei, who was injured along with two other journalists, posted on Facebook.
Two days before this, three journalists including Zohmingmawia aka Te-a, news editor of ‘The Aizawl Post, the second largest circulated vernacular paper in Mizoram, were injured in police attack.
Lawbei also said that the Assam police were targeting all Mizos irrespective of scribes, who were carrying press identity card. “The police have no respect for media which is an utter insult to the freedom of press,” she added.
Another injured women working journalist Catherin C. Sangi, a correspondent of All India Radio, who was also attacked by Assam Police was quick to react to policemen on Facebook condemning their action against journalists.
“This is just one of the many wounds inflicted on me by the Assam policemen. The wounds will heal eventually but it will leave footprints of scar- of how a helpless unarmed female reporter, despite pleading to spare me was without any hesitation ruthlessly beaten by the most cowardly acts of animals. I strongly condemn this atrocity,” Sangi posted with a snap of her wounds.
Joseph Lalnuntluanga, a reporter of Zonet TV, who lost his eye-glasses when hit on forehead, and H. Lalnuntluanga Zate aka H. Zate, who writes for a Manipur based “Manmasi Digest’ monthly magazine, were among the injured. Zomuanpuia, the editor of a Kolasib based ‘Zingtian’ suffered severe injury, while Malsawmdawngzela Hrahsel, a reporter of the largest circulated vernacular daily ‘Vanglaini’ and R. Lalnunmawia, Kolasib Duhlai News editor also suffered minor injury on their backs.
Leaders of Mizoram Journalists Association (MJA), an umbrella association of all journalists in Mizoram said at least 8 journalists, including two women reporters, associated with different media houses were brutally attacked and thrashed by Assam Police despite showing their press credentials to substantiate their identity.
The allegations came after some Mizoram journalists who went to the spot last week narrated their ordeal before the MJA leaders. MJA also alleged that motor bikes which bore ‘Press’ sticker belonging to journalists were also damaged by the policemen.
In view of the attacks on journalists, a general body meeting of the MJA on Monday decided to stage sit-in-demonstration today (Tuesday) in Aizawl to seek justice and demand apology from Assam Police.
The journalist body demanded the Assam government and other concerned authority to find out the policemen involved in the brutal attack and give them stringent punishment.
The MJA general body meeting also decided to appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, DoNER minister Dr. Jitender Singh, Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, Mizoram chief minister Lal Thanhawla and Press Council of India to intervene into the brutality against journalists and will submit evidences including video footage and photo clip of attack on journalist to substantiate their allegations.
Meanwhile, Khan told this reporter that he wants to hold talks with leaders of MJA to settle differences.
Tension has flared up along the Mizoram-Assam border since 27 February when MZP activists constructed a resting shed at Zophai paddy field on the Mizoram-Assam border. The resting shed was demolished by Assam police on the same night.
MZP claimed that the land belongs to Mizoram and it was donated to the organisation by Lalrothangi. However, the Assam government claimed that the land where MZP attempted to construct rest house falls under Assam’s Garmura inner line reserve forest. Officials in Assam also claimed that even Google satellite imagery clearly shows that Zophai paddy or Kachurthal falls under south Assam’s Hailakandi district. However, Google Maps does not reflect the exact boundaries of any states as they are drawn randomly.
The three south Assam districts of Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj share a 64.6 km-long border with Mizoram’s Kolasib, Mamit and Aizawl districts. Mizoram was part of Assam till 1986, when it became a separate state after signing the historic Mizo Peace Accord.