Indian Press Council to investigate harassment and intimidation of journalists in Kashmir

Srinagar: The Press Council of India (PCI) has announced that it will form a three-member “investigative committee” to investigate allegations of harassment and intimidation of journalists in Kashmir following a communication of the President of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and former Jammu and the Chief Minister of Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti.

In the communication, Mufti listed the cases of harassment against journalists by authorities in Kashmir.

“The Honorable Chairman of the Press Council of India, while taking cognizance of the communication from Ms. Mehbooba Mufti, President of the PDP concerning the intimidation and harassment of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir, a three-member fact-finding committee made up of S / Shri Prakash Dubey, leader and editor of the Dainik Bhaskar group; Gurbir Singh, reporter, The New Indian Express; and Dr. Suman Gupta, editor-in-chief, Jan Morcha, member of the committee to investigate the matter, ”reads the letter from the ICP.

The highest statutory press body urged J&K authorities to “fully extend their cooperation and assistance”. The letter also states that “the investigation committee is required to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter by discussing with the authorities concerned and the journalists concerned and to collect the information it deems appropriate to submit its report to the Council as soon as possible. “.

India Press Council. Photo: PCI’s Twitter.

Mehbooba had written to the PCI two days ago to brief the Council on issues related to raids on journalists, summons issued to them, and cases filed under controversial anti-terrorism laws, such as the Illegal Activities Act ( prevention) (UAPA).

“In a democratic configuration, a free and independent press is crucial and essential for government institutions to function transparently with due accountability to its citizens,” reads Mehbooba’s letter. “We have witnessed how fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Indian constitution are increasingly under attack, especially in the past two years, by hostile and precarious dispensation.

Mehbooba’s letter also touched on the subject of a number of journalists being forced to disembark from overseas flights and return to J&K due to surveillance circulars. Recently, Thread reported that there are more than 43 people at J&K on the circular watch list who are not allowed to travel abroad following an “unfavorable report” against them from different agencies. Of 43 people on the list, around 22 are journalists.

Constant repression

The issue of diminished press freedom in the old state has become a raging debate in recent times.

Earlier this month, authorities searched the homes of at least four journalists. Their electronic gadgets were seized and sent for technical evaluation. In an official statement, police linked the four journalists to FIR 82/2020 registered at Kothibagh police station in Srinagar city. The FIR concerns the blog [email protected] which is known to have posted controversial and defamatory material against a number of people living in the valley.

Responding to the searches, the Paris-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on J&K police to “stop searching journalists’ homes and immediately return any seized electronic devices.”

“The repeated harassment of journalists in Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir must end immediately,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The police should end all interrogation and investigation of journalists Showkat Motta, Azhar Qaddri, Abbas Shah and Hilal Mir, and return all seized electronic devices from the journalists’ homes. “

An archive image of Kashmiri journalists organizing a silent protest inside the Kashmir Press Club in Srinagar. Photo: Mudasir Ahmad / File.

Recently, the magistrate of Kupwara district, a border district in northern Kashmir, ordered “unauthorized / unregistered” journalists to “complete their registration or get approval” (from the administration) before they can. perform their professional duties. The order was condemned by legal experts who said the bureaucrat was acting ultra vires.

In August, the United Nations special rapporteur for the protection of the right to freedom of expression expressed “serious concerns” over reports of arbitrary detentions and intimidation of journalists in Kashmir, joining a growing chorus global organizations and international watchdogs against the escalating press freedom scenario. in India.

In 2021, India was ranked 142 on the World Press Freedom Index, making it one of the least free countries in the world for journalists.

The communication from the UN special mandate holders took note of alleged incidents of harassment inflicted on Kashmiri journalists Fahad Shah, Qazi Shibli, Sajad Gul, Auqib Javeed and also raised the issue of the closure of the office of the Cashmere times newspaper.

In another case that restricted journalists’ freedom of action, Kashmiri authorities in May ordered the health services department to refrain from speaking with reporters amid the surge in COVID-19 infections and escalating deaths.

Prior to that, J&K Police’s decision to take legal action against scribes and photographers approaching shooting sites or scenes of clashes between forces and protesters created a stir in the fraternity. of the press in Kashmir, with the media describing the decree as “a tactic to force journalists not to report facts on the ground.”

The J&K administration also called for censorship of global media watchdogs earlier this year in March, where two journalists claimed they were manhandled by police during protests outside Jamia Masjid in Srinagar. Shafat Farooq, media reporter at BBC Urdu, said medics diagnosed him with an injury while Saqib Majeed, a freelance photographer, claimed an officer held him violently to the point of “choking”, although that the police strongly denied this claim.

In addition, the administration of the territory of the Union also lodged a complaint, including two under the UAPA, against a number of journalists. FIRs were filed against Peerzada Ashiq, a journalist from The Hindu; Sajad Gul, journalism student at Central University of Ganderbal; Yashraj Sharma, former editor-in-chief of Cashmere Walla; and Mir Junaid and Qazi Shibli, who work for Kashmiriyat, an online news company.

The Clooney Justice Foundation (CFJ), founded by Hollywood actor, producer and screenwriter George Clooney and his wife lawyer Amal Clooney, has announced that it will monitor the trial of Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan, who has been detained for more than two years for terrorism.

Kashmiri journalists said they were wary of the current “attack”. Many reporters have said they have started to self-censor and refrain from writing articles that they believe could elicit negative reactions from the establishment.

A number of reporters also claimed they had been contacted by the J&K Police Criminal Investigation Department wing and asked to disclose details about them. However, officials from the Valley CID said Thread that such an exercise did not constitute harassment.

“The details are not being researched due to some ulterior motive,” an official said anonymously because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “Such a database has been around since 1947. We keep updating it. In addition, we have received complaints from a number of government departments alleging misconduct by people claiming to be journalists. So we check the references of many of these people. “

Shakir Mir is a journalist based in Srinagar.

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