The Union government has blocked The Kashmir Walla’s website and its social media accounts without serving a notice or issuing an official order, the independent news portal said on Sunday.
In a statement, the outlet described the action as an “opaque censorship” and said it was gut-wrenching and “another deadly blow” to press freedom in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Since 2011, The Kashmir Walla has strived to remain an independent, credible, and courageous voice of the region in the face of unimaginable pressure from the authorities while we watched our being ripped apart, bit by bit,” the statement read.
The server provider informed the staff on Saturday that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had blocked the website under the Information Technology Act, 2000, according to the statement. After this, the staff discovered that The Kashmir Walla’s Facebook page with nearly half a million followers had been removed and its Twitter account had been withheld “in response to a legal demand”.
The statement noted that the action had been taken at a time when The Kashmir Walla staff were in process of vacating their office in Srinagar after being served an eviction notice by the landlord.
The statement also highlighted that The Kashmir Walla’s editor-in-chief Fahad Shah has been in jail for 18 months now. The police had arrested Shah in February last year and accused him of glorifying terrorism, spreading fake news and inciting violence.
The Kashmir Walla said this was “the beginning of the saga of his revolving door arrests” and the harassment of its staff.
“He [Shah] went on to be arrested five times within four months,” the statement said. “Three FIRs [first information reports] under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and one Public Safety Act have been registered against him.”
Sajad Gul, who worked with The Kashmir Walla as a trainee reporter, is also in a prison in Uttar Pradesh under the Public Safety Act. The journalist first was arrested on January 6, 2022, after he posted a video of a family shouting anti-India slogans after their relative was killed in a gunfight in Srinagar.
The Kashmir Walla said it was still processing the recent action and that there “isn’t a lot left” to comment.
The statement added, “The Kashmir Walla’s story is the tale of the rise and fall of press freedom in the region. Over the past 18 months, we have lost everything but you – our readers. The Kashmir Walla is beyond thankful that we were read avidly for 12 years by millions.”