Any news can be your last news: Indian crack down on Kashmiri Journalists: Ahmed Mughal

by Tauqeer Abbas

On April 5, 2022, there was a wave of joy at the Sultan’s house in Batamlu in central Srinagar. It was a pleasant spring day in Indian-administered Kashmir. After more than three-and-a-half years of going round the courts and police stations, his family received a very happy news that ‘Asif Sultan,’ a journalist, The bail application of the husband, father and son was approved.

Relatives reached their house and started waiting for them to come home, while waiting for hours turned into days, Asif’s family started getting worried.

On April 10, another charge was brought against Asif. After which he was not released and he was transferred to another jail outside Kashmir, after which meetings with him became difficult.

His father Mohammad Sultan said that we have nothing left but we will continue this fight. Everyone knows that he (Asif Sultan) is innocent, so we will definitely succeed.

His five-year-old granddaughter Areba ran into the room and sat on his lap, she was six months old when her father was arrested.

Asif Sultan was first accused of supporting militancy in Muslim-majority Kashmir, which fueled the 1989 uprising against the Indian government.

They have been charged under an anti-terrorism law called the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which makes it extremely difficult to get bail. The second charge against him is under another controversial law, the Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows security agencies to detain him without charge for up to two years.

Mohammad Sultan denies these allegations. They believe that Asif was targeted because of his work, particularly an article he wrote about an anti-India militant, which was published in August 2018, a month after its publication. I was arrested.

Asif’s father says, “Asif is a professional reporter and was sent to jail for writing about militancy.” Asif has nothing to do with them [militants],’ he says, adding that ‘they (the government) wanted to make an example of Asif so that no one would dare to write and publish on topics that the government wants. I am against.’

The BBC has spent more than a year investigating allegations against the Indian government, which it says is a nefarious and organized conspiracy to silence and pressure media representatives and institutions in the region. The campaign is underway. In this regard, we had to meet the (BBC) journalists in secret, and they asked for their names to be withheld for fear of reprisals.

Over the course of several visits, we spoke to more than two dozen journalists, editors, reporters and photojournalists working independently, as well as journalists working for regional and national news organizations, all of whom described the government’s actions as a warning to himself.

Asif has spent five years in jail. At least seven other Kashmiri journalists have been jailed since 2017. Four persons including Asif are still behind bars.

Fahad Shah, who edits a digital magazine, was arrested in February 2022 under anti-terrorism laws, accused of ‘propagating terrorism’.

A month before him, freelance journalist Sajjad Gul was arrested after he posted a video on social media of local people shouting anti-India slogans. Sajjad was accused of criminal conspiracy. Both have been re-arrested on new charges, but have been granted bail each time.

The latest incident of arresting journalists took place in March this year. In which a journalist named Irfan Meraj was detained on charges of providing financial support to terrorists, Meraj has been working for international journalistic organizations.

Cases have also been registered against several other media persons.

The BBC has repeatedly contacted local authorities and police to respond to the allegations. Attempts were also made to reach out through interviews, and emails with specific questions, but no response was received.

At the G20 meeting in Srinagar in May, we (the BBC) asked Manoj Sinha, the region’s top administrator, about allegations of a media crackdown. He said the press was “doing its work with complete freedom.” He said the journalists were detained “on charges of terrorism and attempts to disrupt social harmony, not journalism or writing stories.” Due to.’

We spoke to several people who are refuting the administration’s claims.

A reporter told me, “It is very common for the police to summon a journalist here. And there are dozens of such cases where reporters have been detained for their news.

“I started getting calls from the police about my story. They kept asking why I did that. Then I was personally questioned. He said that he knows everything about me and my family which was very scary for me. I have thought a lot about whether I will be arrested or physically harmed.

More than 90 percent of the journalists I spoke to said they had been summoned by the police at least once, with some saying the tone of the police was polite. However, some said they faced bad behavior, anger and threats.

A journalist spoke to us and said, “We live in fear that any news may be the last news of our career.” And then you will be in jail.

“Journalism in Kashmir is dead and buried here,” another reporter told me.

Each of the journalists I spoke to said they had been called in by the police several times over the past few years for ‘routine questioning’.

I was witness to one such phone call.

The journalist I was with received a call from the local police station, she put her phone on speaker, the police officer introduced himself and asked the journalist his name, address and where he worked.

When the journalist asked why these details were needed, the officer’s tone remained friendly but he read out the details of the journalist and his family, including what his parents do, where they live, where his siblings are. study and work, what degrees their siblings have, and the name of the business one of their siblings runs.

I asked the journalist how he felt after the call.

His response was, ‘It’s worrying, I’m wondering if they’re looking at me, are they looking at my family, what led to that phone call and what’s going to happen next?’

Other journalists said they were also asked for more personal details, including how much property they own, what bank accounts they have, what their religious and political beliefs are.

A journalist said, “Journalists are being treated like criminals in Kashmir. We are labeled anti-national, terrorist sympathizers, and pro-Pakistan reporters. They don’t understand that it’s our job to keep everyone informed.

The entire region of Kashmir is disputed between India and Pakistan, and both countries, as well as China, control parts of it. Militant groups active in Indian-administered Kashmir are based in Pakistan and have long been believed to be backed by Pakistan’s secret services, a charge Islamabad strongly denies.

There have also been long-standing allegations of human rights abuses by Indian security forces in Kashmir, fueling anger against the Indian government and support for pro-Pakistan insurgent groups in parts of the region..

Journalists say the Indian government is trying to clamp down on reporting on separatist movements and militant groups, but there are also signs of banning critical coverage of the security forces or the administration, even on everyday civilian issues. are done

Journalists I spoke to said that the interrogations had become more frequent since Asif Sultan’s arrest in 2018, and that since August 2019, things have become much worse and more difficult. This happened after India revoked the region’s special status and divided the country’s only Muslim-majority state into two regions.

Now the national government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is managing these two regions. The matter is currently under hearing in the Supreme Court of India.

There has been no elected government for five years, and when the Chief Justice asked the government this week, when will the elections be held? So the response from the government said that they cannot say anything about the time of the elections.

A journalist said, “Since there is no elected representative we can contact, the government simply excuses itself in every case by saying that nothing can be said about it now.”

At least four Kashmiri journalists have publicly stated that they were prevented from leaving Anya, their boarding passes stamped ‘cancelled’ by immigration authorities without giving any reason. This was the reason why a ‘Pulitzer’ prize winning photographer could not attend the award ceremony.

The BBC has learned that there are dozens of names on the list of Kashmiri journalists who have not been allowed to leave India, but the list has not been made public. We asked the police about the legal status of these ‘wanted persons lists’, as they are referred to in official parlance, but have not yet received a response from the authorities.

Some journalists reported that when they submitted their expired passports to government offices to obtain new ones, their passports were also withheld. In recent weeks, passports previously issued to some journalists have also been revoked. These journalists are considered ‘dangerous’ to India by the government.

One journalist said, “We’re getting choked up. It’s getting very suffocating here.” He adds, “We’re all censoring ourselves.” I read my report once as a journalist, then I read it like a policeman and I start deleting things. Hardly any ‘journalism’ is happening here, only the government’s language is being spoken here.

Editors have told us that they often receive instructions from management about what to cover and what to leave out—what to talk about and what to ignore. They are even told to use the word ‘terrorist’ instead of ‘militant’ when referring to armed insurgents.

Local media are heavily dependent on government advertisements, and many have been threatened with not only funding cuts but future bans if they don’t do what they want. will have to face

“I hate the job I do every day,” said one manager, “but what about the people I employ?” If I close, what will happen to them?

You can see what happened to journalism here when you read the local papers.

I spent three days comparing dozens of newspapers published in Kashmir with daily official press releases.

Almost all of them put it on their front page, some edited it slightly, and others actually published it as they received it.

The rest of the front page had statements from the government or security forces. There were many features but hardly any column or news was found which read and learned about journalistic principles.

In June, Indian Army personnel were accused of entering a mosque in south Kashmir’s Pulwama and chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’.

Under normal circumstances, journalists from all agencies would be present in Pulwama and talk to all parties there to verify details and file a report.

The next day, only a handful of newspapers carried the story, almost all reporting it with a quote from local politician Mehbooba Mufti, who called for an investigation.

Over the next few days, more newspapers carried the story, but only as a story about the Indian Army investigating the incident. Hardly anyone would have given any news about ground realities.

While most journalists I spoke to said they feared reprisals from the state, some also said they felt threatened by militants.

Militant groups have published statements on their websites threatening journalists.

I spoke to a journalist who was threatened.

He said that the life of a journalist in Kashmir is like walking on the edge of a sword. You live in the shadow of fear all the time.

“What are you afraid of,” I asked.
He said ‘of the bullet coming towards me. When I see a motorcycle stop near me, I fear that someone will pull out a gun and shoot me, and that no one will know who did it and who was shot. .’

Militants shot dead prominent editor Shujaat Bukhari outside his Srinagar office in 2018, police said. Even after five years, the trial of his murder is yet to begin.

In the conflict-ridden region, one place where journalists could meet freely, discuss stories and share their concerns was the Kashmir Press Club in central Srinagar. It was especially a haven for freelance journalists who did not have an office.

But it wasn’t just that. It was also an important institution in the region that defended the rights and freedom of the press.

It was closed by the government last year. The literary space I frequented to learn about and work on stories now houses a police office.

Journalists say they have nowhere to go when they feel threatened.

Foreign journalists need permission from the Home Ministry to visit Kashmir, and rarely do they get it. The G20 meeting in May was the first time in years that foreign journalists were allowed to visit Srinagar, but access was strictly limited, specifying what they could do. Areas can be visited and topics can be covered.

Over the past decade, there has been a lack of press freedom across India, reflected in global rankings, cases against journalists and raids against media houses. But there is no limit to the decline in Kashmir, we have evidence that the freedom of the press has been lost here.

Shafaqna Pakistan

Note; Shafaqna do not endorse the views expressed in the article 



You may also like