Senior journalist Ghulam Jeelani Qadri who is also printer and publisher of the daily Afaaq was arrested by the police during a raid on Monday night at his residence in a nearly three-decade old case. He was picked up when he had just reached home. Everything about the arrest is unusual. Qadri was arrested in a case that was filed 27 years ago against eight journalists, three of whom have passed away. His then news agency J&K News is alleged to have published statements of militant outfits during a period of ban on the circulation of newspapers. It was only now that police decided to take action, declaring Qadri “absconding” all this while. This so, even when Qadri has been regularly attending the office and publishing his newspaper. Police also needn’t arrest Qadri around midnight. A phone call would have been enough to call the journalist over to a police station.
But that police chose not to do so says a lot about the fraught times we are living in. In past two years press in Kashmir has come under a sustained assault. Senior editor Shujaat Bukhari was assassinated. Journalists have been jailed, advertisements to newspapers curtailed or in some cases stoped altogether and media coverage has come under the cross-hairs of the security agencies.
One cannot but wonder why. Kashmiri journalists have always followed the highest standards of journalism. They have displayed exemplary courage and competence to get the story out and show the world the situation as it really is and allow the unheard to find a voice. They have also played a role in articulating a very complex situation largely free of the political and ideological bias unlike many of their counterparts from outside the state.
Kashmir being a conflict-ridden place, the journalists here have to be extra-cautious to ensure that the content meets the strictest journalist standards and is factually correct,. State Government and its activities too get a substantial coverage, so does the prevailing situation in the state. This makes the ongoing harassment of the journalists all the more puzzling. More so, when the media in Kashmir, comprising a robust English and vernacular press has a particularly unenviable job to do. The problems faced by it are both universal to the conflict situations and unique to the state.
Compared to other conflict situations in the world, the media in Kashmir is perennially caught between multiple narratives and it takes a tough balancing act to navigate them. Now things are being made even tougher and deliberately so. The government can now afford to be arbitrary and willful in its actions and get away with them. Mercifully, Qadri is out on bail now. But his arrest has sent a chilling message home. It has created an uncertain situation for the local media to operate in. We expect all the parties, particularly the government, to appreciate the difficult circumstances under which journalists work and how it is important to bear with us and allow us to objectively report the extraordinary situation prevailing in the state.