2018 was a harrowing year for journalists in Kashmir

From denying foreign journalists permission to visit the Valley to arresting and intimidating local journalists, authorities made life difficult for reporters and photographers in Kashmir

Getty Images.
Getty Images.

Ashutosh Sharma

Annie Gowen, the outgoing Bureau Chief of Washington Post in India, tweeted on the last day of 2018: “There will be no foreign journos to witness either the joy OR suffering in #Kashmir2019 as MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) has not issued any permits since May”.

She was reacting to former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s new year wish: “I hope 2019 is the year we see peace begin to return to the valley, may we see less bloodshed, less suffering, less pain and less sadness. May darkness be replaced by the promise of a better tomorrow.”

Gowen had earlier pointed out on July 31 that “foreign correspondents need a permit to work in Kashmir.” It had prompted Abdullah to ask on Twitter if the situation in Jammu and Kashmir had deteriorated so much that the government was afraid of allowing foreign correspondents to report freely from the state.

In October, Gowen in an article, Dangerous times for the press in Kashmir, for Columbia Journalism Review wrote that she was denied permission to visit Kashmir again before she got transferred last year.

“In August, my tenure as bureau chief came to an end. I wanted to visit Kashmir one last time, but I didn’t receive the official permit. Using a friend’s wedding as an excuse, I flew up for a brief trip to say goodbye to Ishfaq Naseem, who for many years has been the Post’s stringer in Kashmir. At the airport, I registered at the foreign visitor desk as a tourist, but that did not stop the police from dogging my every move,” she added.

“In May, foreign journalists—including me, the outgoing India bureau chief of The Washington Post—received an official warning from the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi about travelling to ‘certain areas’, without asking for permission; we all knew it was referring to Kashmir.”

Drawing parallels between PM Modi and US president Donald Trump, she said: “Modi, like President Trump, shows contempt for the mainstream media—adopting the derogatory term “news traders” (i.e. trading money for information)—and prefers to address the nation on Twitter or do carefully controlled interviews with friendly media outlets. In more than four years in office, he has never given a press conference.”

Similarly, Cathal McNaughton, a chief photographer at the Reuters, posted on Instagram on December 23 that he too was denied entry in India.McNaughton, who won a Pulitzer prize in May, was recently sent back from the airport in New Delhi after his arrival from an overseas trip. An Irish national, McNaughton was accused of travelling to restricted and protected areas in Jammu and Kashmir without permission. He had allegedly reported from the state without valid permission.

Earlier in December 2017, freelance French journalist, Paul Comiti, was arrested and later released on bail for filming a documentary. He had allegedly interviewed some victims of anti-riot “pellet guns” that the security forces use against protesters in Kashmir besides separatist leaders.

A bad year for journalists

Last year was a nightmare for journalists in Kashmir. As 2018 saw more violence and bloodshed as compared to previous years, journalists also found themselves at the receiving end.

The editor of the Rising Kashmir, Shujaat Bukhari was killed by militants outside his office in Srinagar on June 14. A public figure who tirelessly worked the back channels to bring peace to Jammu and Kashmir, Bukhari was actively involved in track-II diplomacy with Pakistan.

A fresh chargesheet was brought against freelance photojournalist, Kamran Yousuf, who was detained by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in September 2017. He was granted bail in March.During his bail hearing, the NIA told the court that Yousuf was not a bona fide journalist since he did not cover government development projects, blood donation drives by the army, inauguration of a hospital or a school or the statementsof any political party in power.

The observations by the NIA were part of the chargesheet into the terror funding and stone pelting in the Valley, charges which have been refuted by him and media fraternity in Kashmir.

Asif Sultan, an assistant editor with a monthly newsmagazine, Kashmir Narrator, remains in jail since August 27-28. He was picked up from his home in Batamaloo for alleged links to militants. But his family rejects police claims.

Police brought him to a court in Srinagar with his hands chained. And he was often spotted wearing a t-shirt that reads: “Journalism is not a crime.”

Getty Images
Getty Images
Asif Sultan, Journalist and Editor of a local monthly magazine Kashmir Narrator sent to central jail on judicial custody for his alleged involvement in Anti-India Activities. Sultan was shifted to central jail after 6 days detention at a police station.

While Masrat Zahra, a Kashmiri freelance photographer, was targeted online after a photograph of her, captioned with the word “mukhbir”—meaning army informer—was circulated on social media, several journalists covering protests and encounters were roughed up by the security forces.

In October 17, 2018, Jammu and Kashmir police beat up at least six journalists covering a military operation against militants in Srinagar. Inspector General of Police SP Pani issued an apology to the journalists, a day later.

A few days later on October 19, however, three journalists with the Kashmir Walla were beaten outside their office and then picked up by the state police. But they were released later following intervention by their editor.

On October 30, 2018, a videographer working with Zee News, Aijaz Ahmad Dar, was shot with pellets by security forces. He was covering a clash between protesters and security personnel in South Kashmir’s Sopian district.

Taking cognizance, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York based independent watchdog, slammed Jammu and Kashmir government over the assault on all these journalists. From time to time, it kept demanding release of the detained journalists. In a tweet, the CPJ said in October: “Obstructing and beating up reporters as they cover elections and demonstrations is a direct attack on press freedom.”

Recently, the Kashmir Editors Guild had decried that the institution of media was being “killed” in Kashmir under the Governor’s administration.

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Published: 03 Jan 2019, 10:57 AM