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India imposes media blackout in Kashmir, says RSF

Updated July 22, 2016
Colombo: Pakistanis in Sri Lanka protest against Indian atrocities in held Kashmir outside the United Nations office on Thursday. The protesters demanded UN intervention in the region.—AFP
Colombo: Pakistanis in Sri Lanka protest against Indian atrocities in held Kashmir outside the United Nations office on Thursday. The protesters demanded UN intervention in the region.—AFP

WASHINGTON: Reporters Without Borders, an international media advocacy group, blamed India on Thursday for imposing a ‘media blackout’ in held Kashmir.

“Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns a media blackout imposed in India-held Kashmir and the harassment of journalists by local authorities since July 8,” says a statement issued in Washington.

On July 8, Indian security forces killed a Kashmiri leader, Burhan Wani, triggering widespread protests. India responded with a military crackdown.

The statement points out that at least 45 civilians have been killed and more than 1,600 injured, including women and children, in protests and clashes. “We urge the Indian government to stop using security and law and order as pretexts for cracking down on the media,” RSF said.

The organisation noted that local media outlets, which were discharging their professional duties of reporting facts from ground zero, were now under severe attack.

The RSF statement included reports from various Kashmiri media outlets, pointing out that during the night of July 15, police raided the offices and printing plants of Kashmir newspapers, including Kashmir Times, Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Observer and Rising Kashmir, and seized a large number of printed copies. During the raids, 50,000 copies of the daily Kashmir Uzma were seized.

Authorities on Saturday midnight gagged Greater Kashmir by raiding its corporate office at Rangreth on city outskirts. Police arrested Greater Kashmir printing press foreman Biju Chaudary and two other employees.

Police also seized copies of Rising Kashmir early on Saturday and raided its press at Sheikhpora in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. “The government of the chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti Sayeed, must stop justifying its flagrant violations of press freedom on the pretext of security,” said Benjamin Ismail, head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific Desk.

“The media are not behind these disturbances and even less are they a destabilising influence in the region. The authorities cannot restore peace in the region by eliminating criticism of the government, which will always find a means of expressions,’’ he added.

“The refusal to understand this is an admission that there is no genuine policy in place to restore peace. Moreover, the curfew now in force should not affect the work of the media.”

The statement pointed out that in an attempt to prevent the dissemination of news and information, the government has cut mobile internet access since July 16, and the private mobile network was cut from July 14 throughout the region. In most parts of Kashmir, cable services and mobile internet have been disabled since July 9. No mobile phone services, except Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, are functioning.

In response, editors and owners staged a sit-in at Press Enclave in Srinagar on Saturday and condemned what they called the imposition of a “press emergency”.

Later, a government spokesperson told the editors that in the next three days “a strict curfew will be imposed and movement of newspaper staff and distribution of newspapers will not be possible.”

RSF has placed India at 133rd out of 180 countries on its 2016 World Press Freedom Index, “because of the number of journalists killed and the impunity for crimes of violence committed against the media”.

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2016