On June 14, 2018, veteran journalist and English daily Rising Kashmir's editor, Syed Shujaat Bukhari, and his two personal security officers, constables Hameed and Mushtaq, were shot by unidentified gunmen outside the newspaper's office, in the heart of Jammu and Kashmir's summer capital of Srinagar.
A year on, mystery shrouds the killing.
Barring the state police having upheld the general belief that the murder was planned in Pakistan, the overall progress in the case has been questionable as even the charge-sheet hasn't been filed yet.
On June 28 that year, the state police had addressed a press conference telling reporters that the murder was planned in Pakistan and executed by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
Releasing pictures of four militants wanted in the case, IGP Kashmir Swayam Prakash Pani had named a Sajjad Gul of Srinagar (allegedly hiding in Pakistan), Azad Ahmad Malik, Muzaffar Ahmad (both reportedly from south Kashmir), and Naveed Jutt, a Pakistani militant who had escaped from SMHS hospital (and was later killed in a gunfight), as the people responsible for the killing.
Pani said the case had two parts — "conspiracy and its execution", adding that the plot started with a hate campaign against Bukhari.
The IGP said several posts in the public domain that spread hate against the 50-year-old journalist, who was also a peace lobbyist, were linked to a particular portal which continues to issue similar 'death warrants' against many in Kashmir since.
As per the IGP then, "Gul is one of the persons who actually created those blogs and those write-ups. We have very strong evidence against him." The police also said that Interpol's help was to be sought to issue a red corner notice against Gul, to extradite him.
But around a month after the presser, there came a twist in the tale.
The Murder That Shook India: Rising Kashmir's editor Shujaat Bukhari was killed on June 14, 2018, with two security guards. (Source: PTI)
On July 21, asking the general public to inform them in case they have any information about Naveed Jutt, the police station at Kothi Bagh released a "hue and cry" notice for the murder in FIR number 51/2018 under section 302, 120-B RPC, 7/27 Arms Act, 16.18.20 Unlawful Activities Act.
Interestingly, the other three accused, including Gul, were named reportedly as 'probable associates' in the notification.
Well, how come merely 'probable'? Was the police not sure about the trio's role or are such cases to be solved through some law of probability?
While the police are yet to come out with the results of their probability algorithms, there are some known facts about Gul.
Before getting safe passage to Pakistan, he was arrested several times in terror-related cases. As per police, Gul was arrested by the Delhi police in 2003. He was again arrested in Kashmir in 2016 in terror cases. As per IGP Pani, Gul had apparently obtained a passport "fraudulently" and left the country in March 2017.
Well, how did a man of such dubious credentials get police clearance for a passport in the first instance? And who all could have been feeding Gul from Kashmir about Shujaat and others against whom blogs are still written? Also, who informed the gunmen about Shujaat's arrival at the press enclave on the fateful day? Could there also be over-ground workers involved?
Gul certainly holds the key to many secrets. But the police have made no headway to extradite him, as even the proposed red-corner notice hasn't been served yet.
And then, a week after that presser, The Hindu filed a detailed story on Bukhari's killing. The report again hinted at ambiguity in the investigations.
In its July 7 edition, The Hindu reported about how the Special Investigation Team (SIT) was looking at "possible scenarios of the attack" through two options. As per the daily: "The SIT, after questioning pedestrians and local shopkeepers, came up with two possible scenarios of the attack. As per the first scenario, three gunmen on a blue bike arrived at the Press Enclave between 6.30 and 6.45 p.m. Around 7.15, one of them checked his mobile phone to match their photograph of Shujaat with the man walking towards an SUV, and signalled to his two accomplices. They waited till Bukhari was inside the vehicle before opening fire."
"Three rifles may have been used but two were used to first kill the SPOs, who were seated in the front. Then one of the assassins pointed his rifle at Bukhari, who was seated at the back. He emptied the magazine on Bukhari and made sure that he was dead," The Hindu quoted the police as having said.
Then, the report spoke about the second scenario.
"In the second scenario, all the three gunmen opened fire, two from the front and the main assassin from the side. The police sent 30 to 35 of the 60 cartridges recovered from the scene for forensic investigation, which confirmed that the bullets were fired from AK-47 and INSAS rifles," the newspaper reported.
Marking a departure from the past, Bukhari's killing involved the use of high-calibre automatic assault weapons.
Extraordinary In Every Way: Shujaat Bukhari was a voice of peace and reason. He was always high on hit-lists. (Photo: AP)
In other such high-profile killings, including that of Mirwaiz Molvi Farooq in 1990 and Abdul Ghani Lone in 2002, and an abortive bid on Hurriyat leader Fazul Haq Qureshi in 2009, gunmen had used low-calibre pistols.
This means Bukhari's killing, executed in full public gaze, was even more meticulously planned. But the investigations are seemingly stuck between the 'probable' and the 'possible' theories.
The busy spot, where the killings took place, is so much under CCTV surveillance that six years ago, two girls were caught from the adjoining Pratab Park neighbourhood before they would have buried an amulet there. On July 12, 2013, as per news reports, the police on its CCTVs had noticed suspicious movement in the park and the girls were instantly caught performing some "black magic ritual for love affair". The incident hogged the headlines, highlighting police alertness.
But in Bukhari's case, the police didn't come up with even a single video footage of the assailants — except for a picture of three bike-borne suspects, captured a mile away from the spot.
What has also been ignored is the statement made by former spymaster AS Dulat that Bukhari had reportedly informed then-chief minister Mehbooba Mufti about the threat to his life.
So, shouldn't the police know what exactly transpired between Bukhari and Mehbooba?
When Bukhari was killed, there were murmurs in Kashmir that he was killed by 'agencies' — but no one ever dared to say which 'agency'.
Given the planning, execution and timings, the role of Pakistan looks certain. But the way the case is being probed raises many eyebrows.
Amid rising questions and the delay in filing the charge-sheet, cracking the case should be among the top priorities for Home Minister Amit Shah. After all, Bukhari's murder was a deadly assault on the very idea of a free press in trouble-torn Kashmir.
A year ago, when preparations for Bukhari's funeral were underway, the mourning staff of Rising Kashmir brought out the next day's edition. They continue to take forward his mission fearlessly since.
A bullet may silence a journalist — but not journalism. May the Almighty grant Bukhari's soul Jannat Ul Firdous and may journalism be fearless in telling the truth.
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