India: Government Ban on Kashmiri Media Slammed

Adeel Shah
Srinagar, India
2016-07-18
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160718-IN-kashmir-media-620.jpg An Indian paramilitary officer stands guard during the ongoing curfew in Srinagar, the day after police seized thousands of newspapers and detained printing press workers, ramping up an information blackout, July 17, 2016.
AFP

People in Indian-administered Kashmir awoke on Monday for the third straight day without newspapers, amid widespread criticism of a temporary media ban imposed by the government in the disputed region.

Kashmir has been gripped by a wave of violence since the killing of a top separatist earlier this month.

Describing the press gag in Kashmir as “an attack on the freedom of the media,” the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on Monday said such a move was unacceptable in the world’s most populous democracy.

“The formal action of the government of India to shut down the media for three days is a blatant attack on press freedom and freedom of expression,” the IFJ said in a statement released on its website, while urging officials in Jammu and Kashmir state to stop the crackdown immediately and allow the free flow of information.

Although the three-day ban officially ended Monday, newspaper owners will not be publishing on Tuesday.

“All the newspapers have decided not to publish on Tuesday. All owners and editors will meet tomorrow and then take a decision,” Hayat Ahmad, owner of Kashmir Reader, told BenarNews.

Held overnight

The clampdown began late Friday when police teams raided several printing presses in Srinagar, stopped the printing, seized all published newspapers and even allegedly detained press employees overnight, according to reporters for some of the region’s prominent local dailies.

“At 1 a.m. Saturday, a team of uniformed policemen entered our printing press and stopped the machines. They detained four of our employees and released them only in the morning,” Arshad Kaloo, senior editor of Greater Kashmir, told BenarNews.

Raja Mohidin, who owns K.T. Press, which publishes eight Srinagar-based newspapers, told the Indian Express that more than one-half dozen employees were detained by the police overnight on Saturday.

Since Saturday morning, no daily newspapers – English, Urdu and Kashmiri – have been available at doorsteps or on newsstands in the region, which has witnessed large-scale violence after Burhan Wani, a top commander of separatist faction Hizbul Mujahideen, was gunned down by Indian security forces on July 8.

As of Monday, at least 40 people, including a policeman, have died and more than 3,000 have been injured in ensuing clashes between stone-hurling crowds and security personnel.

Mobile, internet, cable TV blocked

While mobile and Internet services have remained suspended across the region since Wani’s killing, the state government also blocked cable television through Saturday.

“Initially, we were asked to show restraint while airing news bulletins. When we didn’t agree, the transmission was taken off air by the government administration,” Ishfaq Gowhar, an employee of J-K Media Network Group, a leading cable TV provider, told BenarNews.

“The government doesn’t want to show the exact situation to the people,” he added.

“It is extremely unfortunate that the state government, under fire for its poor management of the law-and-order situation, has sought to shoot the messenger,” the Editors Guild of India said in a statement on Sunday.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday hinted that the ban on newspapers in Jammu and Kashmir was entirely the state government’s decision.

“We are hoping the ban will be lifted soon. Only the state government can provide more clarity as to when exactly [that would happen],” Singh told parliament.

‘An emotional lot’

In Kashmir, state government spokesman Naeem Akhtar told BenarNews that the decision to halt newspaper production in the valley, which has been in the midst of a separatist insurgency since the late 1980s, was taken reluctantly.

“Some young protesters, who are an emotional lot, get charged by what is published in the media,” Akhtar said, adding, “it is only a temporary measure to diffuse a volatile situation.”

But residents, who were already angered by the killings of civilians, rejected the government’s defense.

“On one side the government forces are killing Kashmiri people, and on top of that, they have now started blocking any information of it. If they think such a move will diffuse the situation, they are completely wrong,” Mir Faizan, a software professional from Srinagar, told BenarNews.

Ahsan Ahmad, a postgraduate student at the University of Kashmir, agreed.

“The government won’t achieve anything by banning newspapers. The only way the situation can be brought under control is if security forces stop opening fire at protesters who have full rights to hold peaceful rallies. This ban on the press is a result of the government’s failure to control the situation,” he said.

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