Srinagar: As the government-enforced internet shutdown in Kashmir completed 100 days on Tuesday, Valley-based journalists staged a demonstration against the gag which has severely affected hampered their work.
Holding placards, scores of journalists working with different media organisations – both local and outside – assembled at the Press Club in the summer capital of Srinagar. They staged a sit-in and demanded an immediate end to the ban.
“Stop humiliating Kashmiri journalists,” “100 days, no internet,” read the placards.
As a symbol of protest, journalists held up laptops with blank screens, to “send a message to the world outside about the trying circumstances” in which journalists in Kashmir have worked for in the past 100 days.
“This internet ban has choked journalism in Kashmir,” said senior journalist Parvez Bukhari. “We are demanding that internet be restored so that journalism is restored in Kashmir.”
The internet ban has put up several roadblocks to a journalist’s path. “We aren’t able to communicate with our sources and freely gather information. We demand the internet be restored because we will be paying for it. We aren’t demanding freebies from the government or service providers,” Bukhari said.
The government snapped internet and mobile services and imposed restrictions on movement in the Valley on August 5 – the day the Centre read down Article 370 and bifurcated the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories.
While restrictions were lifted last month followed by resumption of post-paid mobile services, the internet gag continues.
The local administration has set up a “media facilitation centre” at the information department in Srinagar for journalists. This centre has a single internet connection with eight desktops which the scores of journalists working in Kashmir must make best use of. The journalists have to wait in queues for their turns to access the internet and send reports to their organisations.
The Centre opens at 9 in the morning, but there is no fixed time for closing the Centre these days. It depends on the availability of electricity and fuel supplies to the department for running the facility on generator sets.
“It (media center) is not the solution,” said journalist Naseer A. Ganai. “It is humiliating that every time we walk in there we have to provide every detail at the entrance to access the internet.”
Since the season’s first snowfall in Kashmir last Thursday the internet at the centre remained suspended for two days. The service has been erratic since then, adding to the worries of the journalists who find it difficult to file the copies on time.
“Even in war zones journalists get unhindered access to the internet. It is humiliating that the only place in Kashmir where the internet is available is a government-run media Center,” said another journalist, Majid Maqbool. “For simple Google searches and background information for our stories, we have to travel to the centre every day, where we get limited internet access.”
There is however no word from the government on the restoration of internet. Last month government spokesperson, Rohit Kansal told a press conference there were apprehensions Pakistan might foment trouble in the Valley if internet was restored.
”Is the government suspecting journalists too?” asked scribe, Hilal Mir.