The Jammu and Kashmir police on Saturday raided the printing press and offices of three leading dailies in Srinagar and seized all printed copies drawing protests from journalists and criticism on social media. Policemen also detained the staff and prevented the newspapers from publishing more copies, which was termed a direct attack on the freedom of press in the state.
Talking to The Wire, Shujaat Bukhari, editor of Rising Kashmir, one of the papers raided, said it was around 2-30 a.m. that a team of Jammu and Kashmir state police descended at the printing press of the newspaper at Sheikhpora (Budgam). “By that time we had printed about 25 per cent of our copies. We had an inkling that something was coming and had therefore dispatched this first batch by a vehicle to our office located in Press Enclave, Srinagar.”
The police personnel quickly learnt that the first batch had been sent out by a vehicle and took the five-six staff members present at the press with them in order to locate it. They finally caught up with the vehicle at the newspaper office and seized all the printed copies, said Bukhari.
The local media reported that among those who were detained by the police from the printing press was foreman Mohammad Yousuf, who was asked to identify the distribution site from where the newspaper was sent out. The driver of the vehicle, Irshad Khan, said he was caught at Press Enclave and asked by the police to follow them to the Humhama police post where the seized vehicle and the newpapers were kept.
Bukhari said the staff was later allowed to go. The newspaper editor said strangely neither did the police register a case, nor did they disclose the reason behind seizing the copies. “We could not publish any more copies as the printing press was locked after the raid. Even today we are working, but do not know if the police will raid us again or allow us to distribute our copies,” he said.
The offices of Kashmir press was also raided and copies its Urdu paper were seized. “Their English edition was yet to be published. They detained 2-3 staff members there as well and took away the plates which are used for printing the newspaper”
The police also raided the premises of Kashmir Times before the printing could start and took away the staff so that the newspaper could not come out with its edition, Bukhari added.
Kashmir Times staffers said that over 20 policemen had raided its office at Rangreth area in the outskirts of Srinagar around midnight and detained its printing press foreman Fayaz Ahmed and 10 other employees. “The policemen seized the metallic printing plates of Kashmir Times and more than 70,000 printed copies of Kashmir Times and closed down the K T Press Pvt Ltd printing press,” the newspaper said.
The paper’s staff alleged that cops “misbehaved with the employees present there and snatched their cell phones. The employees who tried to resist were beaten up.”
For Kashmiri journaliss, there is a sense of déjà vu, said Bukhari. “Even in 2008 when the stone pelting incidents happened and during the massive protests of 2010 there were at least about five to six days when the police had similarly raided our premises and seized the copies. This phenomenon is nothing new.”
A senior journalist, who has worked with national dailies too, Bukhari said he was planning to rally other media groups to lodge a formal protest about the incident. “The only problem is that there is a curfew and we cannot even step out.” However, he is venting his anger through the social media by attacking the government for trying to stifle the free functioning of the media.
He also tweeted the front page of the newspaper edition, which could not make it to the homes of the readers.
The action on newspapers is clearly part of a plan to curb news flow in the strife-torn state. Already mobile, internet and telephony services have been suspended across the Kashmir Valley, where violence broke out after the gunning down of militant commander Burhan Wani. So far, 43 people have lost their lives.
The state government, through its spokesperson Nayeem Akhtar, said that the ban on newspaper publication and distribution would continue for three days as the government was expecting more protests in the Valley.
“The undesirable step was taken to ensure peace. Pakistan has given (a) black day call. There is an attempt to subvert peace, it is an unusual situation so we were forced to take such an undesirable step,” he was quoted as saying.
The spokesperson also noted that the government had taken this extreme step as it wanted “to save lives and strengthen peace efforts”.
Later on Saturday, a meeting of Kashmir-based newspaper editors and owners was convened. The editors discussed and criticised government action against newspapers. The editors said they had been told that the ban on newspapers has been imposed “in view of apprehensions of serious trouble in Kashmir Valley in the next three days aimed at subverting peace…strict curfew will be imposed and movement of newspaper staff and distribution of newspapers will not be possible”.
Bukhari termed the ban a “press emergency” and noted that this was the first time that the media has been “formally asked” not publish newspapers. “The government doesn’t want the public to know the ground situation. We will publish online but with a ban on internet, who will it reach?” he said.
This article was updated to include the state government spokesperson’s comments.