Indian police arrest French journalist for filming in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - An Indian court on Monday remanded in custody a French journalist for five days after he was arrested in the disputed Kashmir region for filming a documentary without permission and violating visa regulations, police said.

The freelance journalist, Paul Comiti, was arrested on Sunday in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-administered Kashmir where Muslim separatists have been waging a violent campaign against Indian rule since the late 1980s.

Comiti held an Indian business visa which did not permit him to make a documentary on political or security-related issues, Senior Superintendent of Police Imtiyaz Ismael Parray told Reuters.

Comiti had met a separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and filmed protesters throwing stones at members of the security forces, said another senior police official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

He had also met victims of anti-riot “pellet guns” that the security forces use against protesters.

More than 3,800 people have been wounded and one killed by the weapons since a new round of protests against Indian rule erupted last year, with more than 100 partially or fully blinded, official figures show.

“We called him to ask him about his activities, but he refused to present himself before the police,” the second police official said.

“He was not authorized to film here because he was on a business visa. He was finally arrested.”

Muslim-majority Kashmir is claimed in full but ruled in part by mostly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan and has been at the heart of nearly seven decades of hostility between the neighbors.

Comiti had asked the defense ministry for permission to film in Kashmir, but it had been denied because he was on a business visa, said the second police official.

A French Embassy’s consular official based in New Delhi met Comiti at the police station in Srinagar, police said. An embassy spokesman was not available for comment.

An insurgency by separatist militants raged in Kashmir through the 1990s and into the 2000s but it had died down more recently.

But the killing by the security forces of a young, popular separatist leader in July 2016 sparked a new wave of protests by a new generation in India’s only Muslim-majority state.

India’s interior minister said last year the government planned to reconsider the use of the pellet guns to control crowds, after the multiple casualties stirred public anger and condemnation by rights groups.

Editing by Malini Menon, Robert Birsel