Fact-finding report on Kashmir: Complete loss of press freedom

The team visited Kashmir from September 28 to October 4 to assess the situation prevailing in the Valley. Its report also raises questions over judicial system in the Valley

Fact-finding report on Kashmir: Complete loss of press freedom
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Majid Maqbool

A report released by an eleven-member team of advocates, Trade Union leaders, human rights activists and researchers from New Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai that recently visited Kashmir has found a “complete loss of press freedoms” in Kashmir which has left people disillusioned in the aftermath of revocation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state by the BJP government on August 5. The report also questions the role of the judiciary.

The team visited Kashmir from September 28 to October 4 to assess the situation prevailing in the Valley in the months following the abrogation of special status of the state on August 5.

The report titled “Imprisoned Resistance: 5th August and its aftermath” was released by the visiting team on Thursday at Press Club in New Delhi.

The team comprised Aarti Mundkur, an advocate from Bengaluru; Amit Sen, a psychiatrist from New Delhi; Clifton D’ Rozario (advocate, All India People’s Forum, Bengaluru); Gautum Mody from New Trade Union Initiative, New Delhi; Lara Jesani, an advocate from Mumbai; senior advocate Mihir Desai from Mumbai; Nagari Babaiah (People’s Democratic Forum, Bengaluru); Ramdas Rao (All India People’s Forum, Bengaluru); Saranga Ugalmugle (Advocate, Mumbai); Swathi Seshadri (Independent Researcher, Bengaluru); and Veena Gowda (Advocate, Mumbai and People’s Union for Civil Liberties).

“Many newspapers have discharged their reporters since they are unable to pay salaries. Much of the print media has been reduced to ‘pen drive journalism’ with major sources of news being daily pen drives handed out by the state government’s information department,” the report states.

The report notes that constant surveillance and policing at the only Media Centre in Srinagar, which provides limited internet access to journalists, and at the Srinagar Press Club is “creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in which journalists could not possibly function with any semblance of independence.”

“The situation in Kashmir has led to a complete loss of press freedoms. On the other hand, people we met unanimously communicated their anger and sense of betrayal felt by them to a major part towards the bias and false reporting by the Indian mainstream media, and also towards the silence of the local media in the face of numerous newsworthy truths of the hardships, violations and tragedies faced by the people, which were not making it to the newspapers,” the report added.

The report also pointed fingers at the judicial system in the Valley, especially about dispensing justice to the victims and those arrested in the months post-August 5.

“While courts are open in Srinagar and other districts, accessing these courts or expecting them to deliver justice is a far cry,” the report states.

A lawyer told the visiting team that in Kashmir there’s anarchy and the judiciary has been made non-functional.

“PSA is misused and there are thousands of stone-pelting cases. They can arrest anyone as and when they chose to do so. This is sinister violence of armed forces and in PSA cases the Deputy Commissioners act like rubber stamps as does the judiciary,” one of the lawyers told the visiting team.

“So many commissions are appointed but nothing changes, nothing concrete happens. Harsh laws have to be removed. The national media has tarnished our images and our children outside are being harassed. There’s impunity and the orders are not respected,” the lawyer said.

Another lawyer quoted in the report told the visiting team that even under so-called normal circumstances, judges cannot function independently due to pressure from the agencies.

“People fear legal action and only 3-4 per cent of the victims go to court. There are 8 lakh military deployed in the Kashmir and hence the army presence is always looming. The phones of all the lawyers are tapped. All institutions are infiltrated by the Intelligence Bureau. The SHRC is also part of the Home Department,” the lawyer told the visiting team.

“The centre decides who should be released under PSA. Most of the trails end in acquittals. Judges delay cases, transfer undertrials to different districts, who are then not produced due to lack of escorts. 5th August has created an extraordinary situation,” the lawyer added.

In order to find a lasting and peaceful solution, the visiting team recommended in the report that the Government of India recognise the “existence of dispute between the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian government.”

“Repeal the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Withdraw all army and paramilitary forces from the civilian areas of Jammu and Kashmir,” the report further recommends.

The visiting team also recommended the opening of a “transparent unconditional dialogue with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and their representatives so as to address people’s aspirations to determine and define their own destinies through democratic means and to find a political solution that respects the democratic will of the people in accordance with the human rights and international law.”

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