Govt Creating Conditions for Closure of ‘Non-Conformist’ Newspapers in Valley: Report

The report criticises the J&K government for “withholding” advertisements, the only source of revenue for newspapers in Kashmir.

Srinagar: The government has “created circumstances” which will force the closure of “non-conformist newspapers” in Kashmir, according to a new report on the situation in the Valley post-August 5.

The report titled “120 days: 5th August to 5th December” is the first detailed documentation of the situation in Kashmir after the government of India diluted Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories (UT).

It has been published by rights organisation Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), led by its chairperson Parveena Ahangar. Set up in 1994, the association is a collective of relatives of victims of “enforced and involuntary disappearances” from across the Kashmir Valley.

“The state has created circumstances which will lead to local/non-conformist newspapers going out of business,” said the 83-page report.

The report also criticises the J&K government for “withholding” advertisements, the only source of revenue for newspapers in Kashmir which, in turn, has affected the printing and distribution of newspapers.

“While the measures were draconian, the consequences are grim and dark,” the report said. “Even the registration of the newspapers is at risk at the moment. Due to the low circulation, their RNI (Registrar of Newspaper for India) registration could be cancelled, thereby forcing them to shut down.”

Also read: Kashmir: Document Shows J&K Police ‘Monitoring’ Posts on Social Media

The report goes on to say that the “attacks” on Kashmir-based newspapers and magazines “increased exponentially” and the newspapers’ circulation was paralysed by restrictions imposed by the government since August 5.

The media has been hit by the government-imposed restrictions on public movement in August and snapped all means of communication including mobile and landline services and internet facilities.

While post-paid mobiles and landline connections were restored in October, the indefinite ban on the internet – one of the most important tools for journalists – continues. There has been no communication from the government regarding the restoration of internet services.

A few online portals, including Free Press Kashmir and Kashmir Press, have already stopped functioning in the aftermath of the August 5 decisions due to the sustained internet shutdown. They are not eligible for government advertisements.

The government has set up a “Media Facilitation Center” in Srinagar which has a single internet connection and eight desktops. The center is expected to be sufficient for more than 400 journalists based in Kashmir.

“There is continuous monitoring and surveillance of whatever is printed or is about to be printed through the Center,” reads the report.

The report also talks about the harassment of journalists. “Journalists were not allowed access to different areas and curfew passes were not issued to many local journalists. The state was arbitrarily detaining and harassing journalists,” the report said, highlighting the detention of some journalists including Irfan Amin Malik from southern Kashmir.

Also read: Stopped, Beaten, Prevented From Working: Everyday Troubles of the J&K Journalist

Malik was picked up by the security forces from his residence in the town of Tral in Pulwama district at around 11 pm on August 14. He was released two days later after protests by journalists.

The report says that a land torn by conflict only has a few options to combat “military excesses.”

“If local stories from Kashmir are suppressed and not allowed to reach the world, then this could be the worst human rights violation, as even the right to information and right to share pain is gagged,” said the report which also highlighted the impact of the situation on the right to healthcare, justice and education during the first four months.

According to the report, the complete communication blockade and the indefinite curfew were imposed with the “purpose of preventing [a] journalist from reporting the people’s narrative and protest against the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir.”