Journalists in Kashmir on Thursday issued a joint statement saying that they had staged a silent sit-in protest against the communication blockade in the state, which entered its 60th day. They demanded free access to internet and communication.

Kashmir has been in partial lockdown since August 5, when the Centre revoked special status to the state under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and split it into two union territories. Several major political leaders were put under house arrest, and communication systems blocked. While the curfew is being slowly lifted, things are yet to return to normalcy.

“All the media associations representing journalists, photojournalists, video-journalists, editors of local newspapers and members of the Kashmir Press Club in Srinagar, participated in the peaceful protest inside the Kashmir Press Club premises to highlight the problems faced by the journalists due to the communication blockade that was imposed by the government during the night on August 4, 2019,” the joint statement read. The statement added that the protesting journalists described the blockade as an attempt to muzzle the press in the Valley.

Over 100 journalists bearing placards and wearing black badges gathered inside the Kashmir Press Club, NDTV reported. The banners had slogans like “End information clampdown”, “Stop criminalising journalists”, and “Journalism is not a crime”.

“While limiting the access of media to a hall hired at a private hotel designated as Media Facilitation Centre – where the government has set-up nine computers and a cell phone connection for over 400 journalists – the government has attempted to prevent the information out of the Valley,” the statement read. “How long can the journalists of the Valley rely solely on official releases and occasional press briefings that have always been a one-way communication?”

The protesting journalists said they are unable to cover their assignments due to the communication gag the Centre has imposed. Because of the lack of internet and broadband services, the newspapers have been unable to upload their online versions, they said.

“The government must come up with an answer on how long the crackdown on news would continue?” the statement added. It accused the government of trying to “reduce the journalists as its mouthpieces”.

“There’s no privacy,” Kashmir Press Club General Secretary Ishfaq Tantray said according to NDTV. “Some 300 journalists use that facility daily and it is crowded. It is also being monitored and we are under surveillance.”

The protesting associations, which included the Kashmir Working Journalists Association, Kashmir Journalists Association, Kashmir Press Photographers Association, JK Editors Forum and others, demanded the lifting of the communication gag. All the associations also decided to form a committee to pursue the matter with the government.

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