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Pulwama: On September 2 morning, Ifra, a resident of Srinagar who is currently living in Jammu, woke up to the news of the demise of foremost Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani. She instantly picked up the phone to make a call to her parents in Kashmir. Despite repeated attempts, she could not connect as there was a communication blackout — cell services and the internet services were shut.
She then checked the websites of the major newspapers and found they had only updated the death of the Hurriyat leader and nothing more than that. After regular intervals she logged online but there were no more updates. “I was opening Greater Kashmir after every 30 minutes but that had only news about Geelani’s death and nothing about the latest situation back home.” Greater Kashmir is the leading daily newspaper of the Kashmir valley. The last update in its website is titled: “Syed Ali Shah Geelani passes away”.
The website of Kashmir Life, a weekly, with one of the largest online reach had barely posted three updates in the past 18 hours.
Tahir Bhat, online editor of Kashmir Life news magazine, early morning visited the downtown area of Srinagar to take stock of the situation. “I saw a strict restriction in place with no movement of the private vehicles; shutters down; police fanned out across the city, and roads barricaded. I wanted to report what I saw with my eyes for my news organisation but I am unable to post, as there is no internet connectivity available,” said Bhat while talking to The Wire. Bhat can make calls as he has a BSNL SIM card in his phone but cannot post news and the broadband connection in his office is no longer functional.
The administration imposed restrictions on movement and communication around midnight soon after the word spread that Hurriyat stalwart Geelani passed away. Geelani was 92 and had been under house detention for 11 years. The next morning residents of the Kashmir Valley woke up to a communication blackout and restrictions imposed on the movement by the armed forces. Except for a few government-owned BSNL networks, all mobile connections were snapped at night. The authorities have not made any order on internet shutdown public yet and activists say this is a violation of the Supreme Court guidelines.
The Kashmir Walla is one of the few news portals that updated its website. But since their office has no internet service today [Thursday], Yashraj Sharma, a staffer of the organisation based in New Delhi, posted a few updates. “Till the phones were working I was in contact with my editor but altogether in the night everything fell silent and I was unable to communicate with my editor any further,” Sharma told The Wire.
He now updates the website from Delhi. ‘Is my family safe’: Communication blackout triggers trauma for Kashmiris far from home, Yashraj did this story from Delhi, and rather than filing the story and sending it to the editor he had to post it on his own.
Interestingly, digital outlet Free Press Kashmir is able to update its website frequently. Qazi Zaid, the editor of the news outlet, said that they have a private broadband (SNTPL) connection at the office.
Zubair Amin, a Srinagar-based journalist who writes for international publications, said in a tweet that just a few months ago India signed a joint statement for freedom of speech and expression at the G7 Summit.
“Today Kashmir is under a blanket blockade of telephone and internet services. Besides making people suffer it is a humiliation for the journalist who has no access to information.”
Just few months ago India signed a joint statement for freedom of speech and expression at G7 summit. Today #Kashmir is under a blanket blockade of telephone and internet services. Besides making people suffer it is humiliation for Journalists who have no access to information. .
— Zubair Amin (@zubaiyramin) September 2, 2021
Kaisar Andrabi, a freelance journalist from Srinagar, was among the few and first media persons who managed to reach Geelani’s residence within hours of the news of death last night. “As I heard the news about the death of the Hurriyat leader, I was staying in a nearby locality and I set on foot and reached there around 11 in the night along with another reporter Zubair. The troop movement was so high that we got separated and till 6 in the morning I was there and journalists were not allowed there.”
Andrabi also tweeted that police whisked away the media persons who tried to reach the graveyard where Geelani was buried in the wee hours.
Last night police whisked away the media persons who tried to reach the graveyard where #Geelani was buried in the wee hours. This was the only spot from where #Hyderjournalists could cover his last rites. Authorities in #Kashmir imposed a total communication blackout. pic.twitter.com/ktDOLKfyqp
— Kaisar Andrabi (@KAndrabi) September 2, 2021
His colleague Bhat Burhan, a multimedia journalist, tweeted, “Not a single journalist is being allowed to cover the last rites of SAS Geelani, a senior Kashmiri pro-freedom leader. Journalism in Kashmir continues to suffer.”
On Thursday, a freelance photojournalist navigated lanes and bylanes and reached near to the graveyard where Geelani was buried. He was not allowed to go nearby by the police, but he told The Wire on condition of anonymity that he clicked the pictures from a distance. “I then travelled around 6 kilometers to reach the office of a national media newsroom where there was internet availability.”
The Wire when called the IGP Kashmir for comments on the security situation in the valley, he said, “I am in a meeting, I can not talk.”
As per latest reports, citing police officials, the restrictions are likely to continue even tomorrow [Friday].