An international press advocacy group is urging India to immediately withdraw its media repression in Occupied Kashmir, saying it has handed unimpeded powers to authorities.
In a statement, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the new policy allowed Indian officials to harass journalists and media judicially and economically if they “published content it doesn’t like,” it said, describing this as “prior censorship” and stating that media repression in Occupied Kashmir must be ended.
Media repression in Occupied Kashmir flayed by rights groups
Under the policy, the government’s information and public relations department (DIPR) exercises “pre- and post-publication control over all journalism in the territory for the next five years,” it added.
“By means of this totally Orwellian regulation, the Jammu and Kashmir administration becomes plaintiff against the free press, judge and executioner all in one,” said the RSF.
Read more: India extends gag on 4G in Kashmir
A Srinagar-based journalist told Anadolu Agency that the new media policy was “merely a legal cover to what is already going on in Kashmir.”
“For the last couple of months, many of our colleagues were booked under stringent laws, many were summoned [by police] and interrogated for their professional work or social media posts,” said the journalist, who wished to remain anonymous.
India’s increasing intolerance of free media in Occupied Kashmir
Covering violent protests, which frequently see Indian forces use lead-pellet-firing shotguns on protestors, has become even harder.
“We’re stopped miles away. No investigation by journalists is possible,” said Umer Arif, a freelance journalist.
“So, we show what the government forces want us to show, not much else.”
Foreign journalists also need special permission to visit the territory.
Editors guild slams Chairman of Press Council for his unilateral statement (issued on behalf of the Council without even consulting other members) in support of restrictions on the media in Kashmir pic.twitter.com/qACyjsmKpM
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) August 28, 2019
India’s part of Kashmir was brought under New Delhi’s direct rule in June 2018 after Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew support for its local partner and dissolved the elected local government.
Read more: Media put in chains in Kashmir
The government has also stopped issuing advertisements to Kashmir Reader and Greater Kashmir, the biggest English-language daily, effectively “choking” it, according to its editor-in-chief Fayaz Ahmad Kaloo.
That has left little money in the media for reporting or investigations.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), says the freeze on advert spending is one of a battery of moves by the central government “to silence criticism of its policies in Kashmir”.
“They want independent voices to go to oblivion,” added Anuradha Bhasin, editor of Kashmir’s oldest English-language newspaper the Kashmir Times.
Media repression in Occupied Kashmir: fake news rife
The RSF said the DIPR would conduct a “background check” of every publisher, editor and reporter before their media outlet is granted “empanelment” — its term for official approval.
“Any individual or group indulging in fake news, unethical or anti-national activities or in plagiarism shall be de-empaneled besides being proceeded against under law,” the new policy says, according to the RSF.
“As there is no definition of what constitutes fake news or anti-national content, the government has absolutely infinite interpretative leeway to censor any journalism it does not like and to impose its own narrative,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“The media policy is clearly in line with the attempts at controlling the press freedom in Kashmir and such attempts have increased manifold after August 2019,” the Kashmiri journalist added.
Kashmir: no-man’s land
Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts but claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also controlled by China. Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars — in 1948, 1965 and 1971, two of them over Kashmir. Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence or unification with neighboring Pakistan. Thousands of people have been killed and tortured in the conflict since 1989, according to several human rights organizations.
Some 70,000 people, mostly civilians, have died over the past 30 years in Indian-Occupied Kashmir, monitoring groups say.
The fighting is between Indian soldiers – who number around 500,000 on the ground – and freedom fighters wanting either independence or union with Pakistan.
Clashes between security forces and militants – which often escalate as demonstrators gather – have been a near-daily occurrence since India launched “Operation All Out” after the death of charismatic freedom fighter Burhan Wani in 2016.
On Aug. 5 last year, India scrapped the region’s limited autonomy under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, downgraded the status of the disputed region and also divided it into two centrally-administered territories.
Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk
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