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French documentary filmmaker arrested in Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Authorities in India's Jammu and Kashmir state must immediately release French documentary filmmaker Comiti Paul Edwards from custody, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

State police arrested Edwards on December 9, 2017, in the city of Srinagar while he was shooting a documentary on people injured by pellet guns, according to a Reuters report. Use of pellet guns on protesters by the Jammu and Kashmir police resulted in 80 deaths and over 5,000 injuries, according to report on TheWire.in website.

Authorities arrested Edwards under section 14 of the Indian Passport Act that gives police the power to search and seize travel documents, according to a report in The Hindu newspaper, which quoted an unnamed police officer.

"Comiti held an Indian business visa, which did not permit him to make a documentary on political or security-related issues," the police senior superintendent Imitiyaz Ismael Parray said, according to Reuters.

"Police should release Comiti Paul Edwards immediately," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney from New York. "Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have a history of restricting journalists. The security and political situations warrant close media coverage not censorship."

Edwards, who holds an Indian business visa valid until 2018, appeared in a Srinagar magistrate's court on December 10, 2017, according to a report in The New Indian Express newspaper. The court ruled that Edwards should remain in police custody in Srinagar until his next court hearing on December 16, 2017, according to The New Indian Express. The journalist has not been charged.

Parray, superintendent of Srinagar city police, declined to comment to CPJ.

An official from the French embassy yesterday visited Edwards, and said that the journalist was "doing fine in custody," according to a report in The Rising Kashmir newspaper.

A person in the French embassy in Delhi who was not authorized to speak on the record, confirmed that an official did go to Srinagar to meet Edwards but declined to comment further on the matter.

Justice Bilal Ahmed Nazki, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir state human rights commission issued notices to the police superintendent, senior superintendent, and regional police inspector general, asking them to clarify why Edwards was arrested, according to a report in The Hindu newspaper. The commission will hear the matter on December 18, according to The Hindu.

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