Journalists unable to report in occupied Kashmir amid communications blackout: CPJ

"I fear that they'll arrest journalists, especially those who will report what is happening," says a local news editor.
Published August 9, 2019

As the New Delhi-imposed communications blackout continues in occupied Kashmir, journalists are unable to report from the ground and have been forced to hand-carry dispatches out of the disputed region.

According to a report by a media advocacy group, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a local news editor in occupied Kashmir said journalists were having difficulty moving around and had also been restricted from shooting videos and taking photographs.

He said Indian security forces at a checkpoint had told him: "You are from the press, you are not allowed."

According to CPJ, the editor, who spoke to them through a messaging app, was the only one they were able to contact on the ground in occupied Kashmir since the communications blackout began on August 4.

"I fear that they will arrest journalists, especially those who will report what is happening," he was quoted as saying.

Earlier in the week, CPJ had "expressed alarm" over reports of a communication blackout in the region as well as the arrest of a journalist in occupied Kashmir.

A statement published on August 5, quoted a senior researcher for CPJ's Asia program as saying: "A large-scale communication disruption at such a crucial time for Kashmir is an egregious violation of citizens’ rights to information from a free press."

"We call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration to guarantee that all communication blocks in Kashmir are lifted and that journalists are able to report freely. Communication blocks have no place in a democracy."

The advocacy group reached out to their contacts in occupied Kashmir in order to get a better sense of the situation on the ground but faced difficulties in doing so.

The following accounts of journalists who have left the region were originally shared by CPJ in a report published on August 8.

The local news editor cited above, messaging with CPJ on Aug 8:

"I along with a few other journalists were thrashed by police on August 6th in downtown Srinagar near Khanyar after one of the photographers had clicked a photo of the barricade. They also took a photo of one of our ID cards, snatched cameras and phones, deleted photos and then also clicked photo of the vehicle plate."

The same editor messaging with CPJ on Aug 6:

"Hundreds of arrests are being made here and the communication is jammed. I guess the state would be keen on looking at what information goes out. I am writing several stories using prohibited network and I guess that could become an issue in a day or two. So please do take care of things if anything happens."

Adnan Bhat, a freelance reporter, on a call over a messaging app on Aug 8 from New Delhi, after leaving occupied Kashmir:

"Very few newspapers have published, but mostly being circulated late at night. Last night I saw copies of Greater Kashmir and Daily Alsafa. Greater Kashmir, which usually comes out with 30-odd pages, is only printing five to six pages. Journalists had gone to the District Magistrate's office for curfew pass but they were asked to come back later. Even government officials are confused as it is not officially a curfew. In fact, it is easier to move around without a press card. If you tell the security personnel that you are a journalist, they try to stop you."

Ahmer Khan, a freelance reporter, spoke to CPJ on a call over a messaging app on Aug 8, after leaving occupied Kashmir:

"When I tried to move around in Srinagar, I was stopped at barricades and abused by the security forces. I decided not to argue and took another route. Local journalists are not reporting because they are being constantly harassed."

Excerpts from published reports by journalists

Deputy editor Muzamil Jaleel and reporters Bashaarat Masood and Adil Akhzer, Indian Express on Aug 7:

"For the past two days, the Indian Express reporters have been holed up in their office from where they walk around to meet residents and then return. In the office building itself, dozens of policemen have moved in, the corridors their temporary shelter […] The press isn’t welcome. Most of the TV crew that have flown in are parked in a 1-sq-km area of Zero Bridge [a historical bridge connecting the Rajbagh and Sonwar neighborhoods] in the city. There is some easing of security here, on the road to the airport and the Rajbagh-Jawaharnagar stretch [neighborhoods in southern part of city] — this is the one that visiting TV cameras film. Elsewhere, roads are barricaded with spools of concertina wire and regular checkpoints with police and armed paramilitary personnel on patrol."

Muzaffar Raina, The Telegraph on Aug 8:

"The "curfew" in large areas means reporters have little freedom to move. The crushing information blockade, with mobile and landline phones shut down and Internet suspended, means they have no way to send their stories. The authorities have not issued curfew passes to journalists because officially there is no curfew."

According to CPJ, journalists in Jammu, where Section 144 has been imposed, said there were restrictions on the media but they were not as severe as in the occupied Kashmir Valley.

Anuradha Basin, editor of Kashmir Times, told CPJ via messaging app and email on Aug 7 from Jammu:

"Within the Jammu region mobile data, and mobile communication was suspended and movement of journalists was restricted except for in the cities of Jammu, Samba, and Kathua [...] Newspaper distributors have been stopped in some areas, particularly north of Jammu city."

Raqib Hameed Naik, reporter for the US-based The Globe Post said in a call on Aug 8 a messaging app:

"While journalists in some cities of Jammu are not facing major restriction, the same can't be said of Kishtwar and Doda districts in Chenab Valley. Some journalists here are being stopped and not allowed to perform professional duties by the security forces […] Journalists in north and south Kashmir are facing the maximum brunt. They usually email their stories as they live in faraway places. In absence of internet, you can’t expect them to travel to Srinagar every day to file their stories. This is directly impacting the newspapers which are completely now dependent on Delhi-based agencies like IANS and PTI for news stories."

According to CPJ, they have reached out to the police in Srinagar, the Home Ministery and the Information and Broadcast Ministry but have not yet received a response.