Kashmiri journalists protest India’s media gag

NEW DELHI-Dozens of journalists in Indian Occupied Kashmir held a sit-in protest Thursday against an ongoing communication blackout in the region, describing the blockade of the internet and mobile phones as a government-imposed gag.

The journalists, holding placards and wearing black bands, said the Indian government was muzzling the press in the region and demanded that the internet and mobile connectivity be restored.

“End information clampdown”, “Stop criminalising journalists”, “Journalism is not a crime”, read placards held up during the silent protest.

A joint statement issued by 11 Kashmir-based journalists’ associations read: “How long can the journalists of Valley rely solely on official releases and occasional press briefings that have always been a one-way communication?”

For the last two months, mobile phone and internet services have been shut down in Indian-controlled Kashmir after New Delhi stripped the region of its semi-autonomous powers and implemented a strict clampdown. It has sent tens of thousands of extra troops to the region and detained thousands of people.

The authorities have said they have restored landline phones but have remained silent on when the mobile phones and the internet would be up and running.

On Oct 1 the Indian government challenged a petition filed by a Kashmir journalist on curbs on the media in Kashmir, saying there are no restrictions on the movement of journalists in the region. “Regular press briefings and press releases are being organised to disseminate information,” the government said in a counter-affidavit filed against the petition.

Authorities have set up a make-shift media communication centre for journalists at a private hotel in Srinagar. The information department managing the centre has allotted 15 minutes for each journalist to access the internet.

The internet blockade has also affected media operations in the region and most newspapers published from Srinagar have been unable to update their online editions since Aug 5, the date New Delhi stripped the region of its special powers.

Foreign journalists have been denied permission to visit the Himalayan region.

Earlier, The Kashmir Press Club, an elected body of journalists in Kashmir, had taken up the issue with the authorities and asked that mobile and internet services be restored for journalists.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said last month she was “deeply concerned” about the situation in the region.

The Indian government has provided an internet connection at a media centre set up for journalists, but reporters say this is insufficient and it lacks privacy. “There’s no privacy. Some 300 journalists use that facility daily and it is crowded. It is also being monitored and we are under surveillance,” said Ishfaq Tantray, general secretary of the Kashmir Press Club. A government spokesman in Kashmir was not immediately reachable for comment.

The president of the Kashmir Press Club, Shuja Thakur said that they had several times approached the Indian government in Kashmir for restoration of mobile and internet services for journalists. “They keep promising and say they are looking into it, but so far there has been no action,” he said.

Separately on Thursday, local media reported that opposition leaders in Jammu – where restrictions have already been eased to a greater extent – were after almost two months allowed to move out of their homes on Wednesday and resume their political activities.

The lifting of restrictions on movement of around a dozen top opposition leaders in Jammu comes ahead of local council elections in the state that are scheduled for Oct. 24, the Indian Express reported.

Source: The Nation