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Jammu: The former minister of forest, Environment and Ecology and controversial BJP leader Chaudhary Lal Singh has warned Kashmiri journalists to “mend their ways” while reporting the Kathua rape and murder case, or face fatal consequences, invoking the assassination of senior and well known journalist Shujaat Bukhari.

BJP MLA from Basholi Chowdhary lal Singh was ousted from the previous PDP-BJP government as forest minister for rallying in support of the accused in the horrifying crime that evoked global condemnation, made the shocking remarks during a press conference in Jammu on Friday.

“These Kashmiri journalists created a wrong narrative about it (the Kathua rape and murder).Now I will tell Kashmiri journalists to draw a line on the journalism you do and how you have to live. Do you have to live like what happened to Basharat, so that such a situation emerges?” Singh issued the threat to Kashmiri journalist.

Basharat Bukhari is Shujaat Bukhari’s brother. Basharat was law minister in the PDP-BJP government before BJP the pulled the plug on the alliance and the state came under governor’s rule.

Shujaat, who was editor-in-chief of Rising Kashmir newspaper, was brutally assassinated by unknown gunmen outside his office on June 14, along with his two security guards.The killing of 50-year-old Shujaat, who also edited two other papers Buland Kashmir and Sangermal, sent shock waves through the media community and attracted global condemnation.

“To avoid such a situation, manage yourself and draw a line (on reporting) and decide if you have to work the way he (Shujaat) was working,” Singh can be heard saying in a video that has gone viral on social media.

Singh with the support of another BJP Minister, Chandra Prakash Ganga, were sacked from the previous state cabinet led by former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti for their controversial support for the accused in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl from Rassana village in Jammu’s Kathua district in January this year. Both of these minister addressed people on the stage of Hindu Ekta Munch. However, facing lot of critiques from all sides, Singh renamed it as Dogra Ekta Munch and continued with his diatribe against the government and even his own party, demanding a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the gruesome crime in which eight persons, including a father-son duo  and four police personnel, were arrested.

In the past, Singh has attracted bad press for his open threats to Gujjar’s in Jammu, reminding them of the massacre of Muslims after Partition. As forest minister, he was accused of a selective drive against Gujjar’s to remove them from the forests in different areas of Jammu, where they had been living for decades.

A day after his controversial statement, Singh, who represents Jammu’s Basholi constituency in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, defended his open threat to Kashmiri journalists. Singh tweeted that “There is need to draw a line between reporting facts and supporting terrorists and their sympathisers. Misinterpretation has become a norm and reporting facts a rarity. Journalistic freedom is absolute but not at the cost of nation and nationalism”.

Last month Singh’s brother, Chaudhary Rajinder Singh alias Babby, was embroiled in a controversy after making derogatory remarks about Mehbooba and repeatedly calling her a “dog” during a rally seeking a CBI probe in the Kathua case. He then went into hiding and was later arrested from Udaipur in Rajasthan on June 10.

However, the statement of Singh was condemned by Jammu and Kashmir National Conference President and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. In a tweet, he said “Dear journalists, your colleagues in Kashmir just got threatened by a @BJP4India MLA. It seems Shujaat’s death is now a tool for goons to use to threaten other journalists.

In a statement, Kashmir Editor’s Guild (KEG) said Singh’s remarks indicate that he holds some information about Shujaat’s murder and demanded that the BJP leader be investigated.

“He has issued direct threat to media and invoked Shujaat’s murder at a time when police is investigating the case. The Guild reserves the right to lodge a police case against the lawmaker who, earlier as well, named a number of reporters for his fall from grace in wake of Kathua probe, now in a trial stage. The Congress-turned-BJP politician has seemingly talked on Kashmir media from a point of strength and possible information about the recent killing (of Shujaat) in Srinagar,” the KEG said.

Condemning the threatening remarks, the Kashmir Working Journalists Association (KWJA) demanded the immediate arrest of the BJP leader and investigation into his remarks in which he had referred to Shujaat’s assassination.

“This threat can’t be taken lightly. He should be arrested immediately and an investigation should be ordered to probe his threatening remarks including his mention of Shujaat’s killing,” demanded the KWJA, which is planning a protest against the BJP leader.

National Conference provincial president Jammu, Davinder Singh Rana on Sunday condemned Chaudhary Lal Singh for threatening journalists from Kashmir. Lal Singh on Saturday had invoked the assassination of Shujaat Bukhari to threaten the Kashmiri journalists, alleging they created a “wrong narrative about the Kathua rape-and-murder case”.

“It’s an unfortunate comment from somebody who is senior leader of BJP. Highly condemnably and National Conference has already issued a statement over this,” Rana said. “He (Lal Singh) is an opportunist loose cannon talking like this for his own benefit. His unfortunate utterance is more out of frustration from being out of power.

The BJP, however, maintained a complete silence on the controversial remarks of its leader.

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