Press Freedom Violations in Kashmir Unworthy of a Democracy: RSF

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Srinagar: Claiming that the working has been “hell” for journalists in Kashmir for the past year, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday slammed the government of India over its alleged press freedom violations in the newly carved out Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

“Working has been hell for journalists in Kashmir for the past year,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, in a press statement from the group’s Paris based headquarters.

“Drastic controls on information, obstructing the dissemination of articles and videos, intimidation by the security forces in the field, every kind of judicial harassment and violation of the confidentiality of sources – the list of press freedom violations by the Indian authorities in Kashmir is unworthy of a democracy. If Narendra Modi’s government maintains these policies, it will go down in history as the one that deprived 8 million citizens of reliable news and information in mid-pandemic,” he added.

Bastard said that on the first anniversary of revocation of J&K’s special status, RSF has examined the current state of press freedom in this northern territory with the help of its journalists.

“In the light of their alarming accounts, RSF calls on the Indian government to immediately change its policy or go down in history as a regime that deprived the region’s 8 million inhabitants of reliable news and information at the height of a pandemic,” he said.

The head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk also said that the streets of Srinagar, the Kashmiri capital, were completely deserted this morning and that the only human presence were the paramilitaries who are occupying the city and patrolling all of Jammu and Kashmir.

“For Kashmir’s citizens, this is a sad reminder of what happened a year ago, on 5 August 2019, when it became one of the world’s biggest news and information black holes, with all forms of communication – Internet, mobile data, TV and fixed-line telephone – suddenly suspended. The Kashmir Valley, from which foreign reporters had already been barred for several months, was cut off from the world. As RSF pointed out in February, New Delhi has succeeded in imposing the longest e-curfew in history,” the RSF said.

The International journalists’ body also cited an example of south Kashmir journalist Qazi Shibli of the prevailing situation in the Valley in which journalists were being harassed.

“The police confirmed yesterday that he is being held in Srinagar prison but gave no reason for his arrest. He was released in April after being detained provisionally for nine months for nothing more than a tweet,” the RSF statement said.

“Aside from this kind of police harassment, Kashmir’s journalists are subjected to far more pernicious curbs on their freedom, starting with the suspension of high-speed mobile Internet,” it added.

The RSF quoted several journalists working in Kashmir complaining about harassment by government forces, and difficulties in performing professional duties in absence of high speed internet.

“There have been incidents in which reporters and photojournalists were roughed up by cops although they were just doing their jobs as journalists,” Srinagar-based freelancer Syed Ali Safvi told RSF. “Harassing reporters by summoning them to police stations poses a serious threat to the free flow of information.”

Safwat Zargar, who reports for the Scroll.in news portal, told RSF that the very idea that journalists have to go to a government facility to use the Internet at a time when people around the world are working from home and practicing physical distancing is “just terrible.”

“This Internet ban not only jeopardizes the lives of these journalists but also puts their families at risk,” he said. “And the absurdity is that the government wants us journalists to be thankful that they created this centre.”

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