A first-person account by ‘The Hindu’ correspondent Omar Rashid of how he was picked up, threatened and released by cops

At the very first instance, I revealed my identity as a journalist and asked them what the matter was all about.

December 20, 2019 10:37 pm | Updated December 23, 2019 12:26 pm IST - LUCKNOW

Police personnel clash with protesters during a rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act on December 20, 2019.

Police personnel clash with protesters during a rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act on December 20, 2019.

Around 6:45 pm on Friday evening, I was trying to grab a quick meal at a dhaba outside the Uttar Pradesh BJP office, waiting to hear about a press conference to be held by the UP government a few blocks away, when at least four men in plainclothes barged in. I was accompanied by Robin Verma, a local activist and friend, and two others, both journalists. The men did not identify themselves and inquired about us using strong and aggressive language. They told me they wanted to question me about something. At the very first instance, I revealed my identity as a journalist and asked them what the matter was all about. However, they packed the two of us, Robin Verma and me, into a police jeep, snatched my mobile phone and asked me to not call or inform anyone or I would regret it. They refused to explain anything to me and asked me to talk only when they asked.

They drove us to the Hazratganj police station a km away, where we were told a senior police officer wanted to talk to us. We were then escorted to a room — it looked like a cyber cell — where within seconds of entering, cops, already stationed there, started thrashing Robin with a thick leather belt and slapped him many times.

They locked the room and asked me to keep silent when I protested why I was brought there. The policemen threatened me they would book me under 120B of the Indian Penal Code if I didn't keep quiet and also said they had evidence to show I was part of the arsonists who vandalized police property and engaged in violence during the protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act . I again clarified that I am a journalist and showed them my identity cards. One of them knew me as a journalist but that obviously was not considered.

They responded by abusing me and said I should keep my journalism to myself, in abusive Hindi. My Kashmiri background was referred to several times and despite informing them about my newspaper, they continued with their questions and threats. “You are a suspect,” I was told and asked to shut up.

For the next few minutes, the policemen badly beat up Robin Verma. They made the same charges against him. We were then packed into the rear seat of a police jeep and driven a few km away to the Sultanpuri police outpost without being told anything.

Here too, we were taken into a tiny room and questioned. The cops repeatedly asked me about the whereabouts of some “Kashmiris” and where I was hiding them. I replied to all their questions in the negative as I had no clue why I was brought there in the first place. A few minutes later, two policemen, of the rank of CO, came in.

I was told to stand up. The police officer, whose name I don't know, told me he would set me right. He was wearing protective gear.

I was then taken to another room in the quarters of a constable, where I was also photographed like a suspect.

The same cop who threatened to put me in place, again asked me about the “Kashmiris” and said he would tear out all my beard and thrash me if I didn't answer his questions as per his liking. Since I didn't have my phone, I could not note down the long list of expletives used against me. He left after some time and I was kept in the room till around 8:30 pm. I was then called to the office of the Circle Officer of Hazratganj who questioned me for a few more minutes. I was asked the same questions I was asked earlier: if I was a part of the protest, if I knew certain individuals, especially Kashmiris and about my professional and background. I informed them that I was indeed present during the protests, as a journalist covering it. The CO asked me if I felt regret at the violence during the protests and refused to believe me when I did. He also lectured me on the "hypocrisy" of Leftist ideology and heavily criticised China and its clampdown on citizens.

By then, the information had reached the CMO.

The same cops who abused and intimidated me earlier now apologised to me and tried to explain that I was picked up due to a “confusion.” This was despite the fact that I had identified myself as a journalist from the very first moment. The police then let me off.

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