The Kashmir Press Club on Monday raised concerns over the inability of journalists in the region to operate freely due to alleged obstruction by authorities. The organisation took note of the alleged physical attacks, threats and summons towards journalists during a meeting.
“The harassment and questioning of journalists in Kashmir on flimsy grounds by the J&K Police for their work is in fact a damning verdict on the appalling condition in which media is operating,” the statement read. “The restrictions on internet and forcibly seeking undertakings from news organizations for allowing limited internet access, constant surveillance by police and physical attacks and summons all are the tools designed and aimed to ensure only government-promoted version is heard outside.”
The gathering, attended by representative of all journalists’ organisations, took note that summons of journalists to the police’s counter-insurgency centre at Srinagar had become a regular occurrence. The groups urged the government to stop continued summons to journalists to interrogate them about their work. “Viewing media as part of problem in Kashmir and blaming journalists for everything wrong is quite misplaced,” the statement said.
The statement also highlighted several such instances in the past few months. On August 14 last year, journalist Irfan Amin Malik was picked up by the police from his home in Tral area of Pulwama district. He was reportedly released a day later, and was not given any reason for his detention.
On September 1 last year, The Hindu journalist Peerzada Ashiq was interrogated at Kothi Bagh Police Station and was instructed to divulge the source of his report. “I was asked to reveal my sources, who shared official data on detentions with the newspaper,” Ashiq said.
In December, journalist Safwat Zargar, reporting for Scroll.in, and Bashaarat Masood, a journalist with The Indian Express, were stopped by the police at Handwara town of Kupwara district during an assignment. They were taken to the office of the Superintendent of Police, Handwara, and were questioned about their reports. They were told that their report may provoke the situation in the Valley.
The Centre had suspended internet services in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh on August 5 last year, just before abrogating the special status of the former state under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Mobile 2G internet services were restored in a limited way for both prepaid and postpaid connections only on January 25, after over five-and-a-half months. However, this access was for just 301 “whitelisted” websites.
The authorities have been slowly lifting the lockdown imposed in the region since August. Postpaid mobile phone services – but not internet – were restored across all networks in the Kashmir Valley on October 14. The Ladakh administration restored 4G mobile internet connectivity in Kargil on December 27, after a gap of 145 days. On the midnight of January 1, SMS services were restored. The administration restored broadband services in institutions dealing with “essential services” on January 15. Three days later, voice calls and SMS facilities were restored on prepaid mobile networks.