Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti on Monday expressed concern on the alleged harassment of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir and said that reporting truth was being criminalised with each passing day.

In a letter to the Press Council of India and the Editors Guild of India, Mufti pointed to the police raids at the homes of four journalists on September 8 and alleged that their mobile phones, laptops, ATM cards and passports of their spouses were illegally seized.

A senior police officer had told that the four journalists – Hilal Mir, Showkat Motta, Mohammad Shah Abbass and Azhar Qadri – were questioned about a blog called “Kashmir Fight”. Reports suggested that the blog was run from Pakistan.

In her letter, Mufti claimed that journalists in Jammu and Kashmir were being harassed since August 2019 after the special status granted to the erstwhile state under Article 370 was abrogated.

“We have witnessed the manner in which fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Indian Constitution have increasingly come under attack especially in the last two years by a hostile and insecure dispensation,” she said.

The former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister claimed that harassing journalists has become a norm and they were being targeted on “frivolous grounds” such as for innocuous tweets and by conducting background checks and seizing their mobile phones, laptops, passports and ATM cards.

“In addition to this, a sizeable number of journalists are either threatened or charged with sections under UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act] or sedition law, simply because their reportage on J&K does not cater to the PR stunts of the ruling dispensation,” she alleged.

Mufti also attached a copy of a questionnaire served to journalists who are being investigated by the government. She said that the questions in the list are not just irrelevant but also based on assumptions that the loyalty of journalists concerned lie with “anti-national networks”.

The questions in the list seek information about the journalists’ political allegiance as well as their relations in Pakistan. The list also contains questions whether the journalists are affiliated with any non-government organisations and socio-religious bodies and seeks details about the properties they own.

“Unfortunately, this is a diabolical method to perpetuate the communal mindset throughout the country in order to gain political mileage and relevance by demeaning and marginalising an entire community,” the former chief minister said.

She said that no established watchdog forum as well as courts have taken any interest or intervened on such widely reported incidents.

“It therefore becomes incumbent upon me to urge you to send a fact-finding team to J&K, to independently verify these claims and take remedial action,” Mufti urged the Press Council of India and the Editors Guild.

Journalists face more harassment post August 2019

Journalists in Jammu and Kashmir have reportedly faced more threats and harassment after the Centre scrapped the erstwhile state’s special status.

In June, the United Nations had expressed concern about the “alleged arbitrary detention and intimidation” of journalists in the region.

The UN statement had cited the examples of The Kashmir Walla Editor-in-Chief Fahad Shah, independent journalists Auqib Javeed and Sajar Gul, and The Kashmiriyat editor Qazi Shibli.

Shah had reportedly been detained without a warrant by the police in Srinagar in 2017, the UN said in the document. “Shah was allegedly interrogated for eight hours by a group of officers who inquired about his journalistic work and his travels,” it added.

In January, a first information report had been filed against The Kashmir Walla for an article about Indian Army personnel allegedly forcing a school in Shopian district to hold a Republic Day event.

In September 2020, Javeed had been allegedly threatened and slapped by the police for his report about some officials intimidating Twitter users.

Shibli had been detained in Anantnag in 2019 for a story about the deployment of security forces in Kashmir, the UN said.

The UN also mentioned the sealing of the Srinagar office of Kashmir Times, a leading English daily of the Valley in 2020. The world body also sought a reply from the Indian government about the measures taken to ensure that journalists could work in a safe environment.