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India: Jammu and Kashmir Government Lifts Ban on Paper

Amin Masoodi
Srinagar, India
2016-12-28
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A man reads a copy of the Kashmir Reader in Srinagar, India, Dec. 28, 2016.
A man reads a copy of the Kashmir Reader in Srinagar, India, Dec. 28, 2016.
Amin Masoodi/BenarNews

An English newspaper in Indian Kashmir on Wednesday hit the stands nearly three months after local authorities banned it on grounds of inciting violence in the insurgency-torn region.

On Tuesday the government of Jammu and Kashmir state officially revoked the ban it had imposed on the Kashmir Reader on Oct. 2, the newspaper’s staff said.

The gag on the Srinagar-based daily came amid unrest that followed the killing of a separatist leader in July. Since then, about 100 people have been killed and more than 10,000 injured in clashes between anti-India protesters and security forces across the state.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir, claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, has grappled with a separatist insurgency that has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the late 1980s. Incidents of violence, however, have diminished substantially over the past few weeks.

Refuting the state government’s charge that the paper fueled violence or disturbed the peace, Kashmir Reader Editor Hilal Mir said the ban had strengthened his staff’s resolve to disseminate truthful information and in an ethical manner.

“We never indulged in sensationalism, which is unethical. We just put forth the truth. It is an irony that hard facts are impalpable to this government due to the mass uprising in Kashmir,” Mir told BenarNews, adding that the government of the world’s largest democracy had “done itself a favor by lifting the unjust ban.”

On Oct. 2, Deputy Commissioner Farooq Ahmad Lone issued the ban through a two-page order that accused the Kashmir Reader of publishing “material and content which tend to incite acts of violence and disturb public peace and tranquility.” The order did not specify any content published by the paper to substantiate these allegations.

“The newspaper had made a representation before the government seeking permission to resume its publication. The case was examined and the government was satisfied that there is no further need to disallow its publication,” Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, the state’s information director, told The Indian Express.

‘Unshackled’

The ban drew criticism from Indian journalists and press freedom advocates, who accused the government of using strong-arm tactics by ordering the closure of the newspaper without giving management a chance to respond to the allegations.

A front-page editorial Wednesday in the under-10,000 circulation Reader declared “Unshackled – we are back.”

“The time away from our readers has been a time of meditation, deep reflection on the practice and arduous evolution of English language journalism in Kashmir as well as the challenges journalists reporting [in] Kashmir often face,” the editorial said.

“As Kashmir Reader hits the stands again in service of our readers, it is with the hope the worst is over and the best is yet to come. Let the space for debate, dialogue and accountability come about and be nurtured.”

The newspaper’s readers welcomed the news.

“I’m really glad Kashmir Reader is back. It was doing a commendable job covering the recent unrest until it was gagged. I just hope the three-month ban has not broken its staff’s spirit,” Ayaz Ahmad, a 19-year-old university student in Srinagar, told BenarNews.

Ishfaq Ahmad, 28, a software engineer from Baramulla district, echoed Ayaz’s views.

“Only time will tell if the newspaper continues presenting facts fearlessly the same way as it was before the ban,” Ahmad told BenarNews. “I hope it doesn’t, but I’m sure the recent gag will play on their minds when they’re publishing stories the government may not appreciate.”

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