By Moazum Mohammad
It is 200 days since the longest-ever internet shutdown in a democracy was imposed in Kashmir. It has delivered a massive economic blow to aspiring and young entrepreneurs, and simultaneously it has discouraged young media graduates from joining the profession after watching the unparalleled nightmare faced by journalists in absence of the basic necessity of the profession: the internet.
(Scroll below for statements of the Kashmir Press Club detailing the intolerable situation faced by journalists)
Before the unprecedented communications blockade – affecting landlines, mobile phones and internet – was imposed on the eve of abrogation of J&K’s special status and downgrading of the erstwhile state into a union territory on August 4, young media school pass-outs were swarming around tea joints and hanging around with journalists to seek suggestions for setting off their careers. They would visit newspaper offices to gain hands-on experience by doing internships. Brimming with excitement and passion, they would even consider taking up assignments and travel without any remuneration, unmindful of the exploitation of their labour.
But the last six months have drastically changed the situation. Not only these youngsters but even young and even mid-career journalists are worried, given the government’s open hostility to journalism and journalists.
Since August, media organisations in the region have been denied internet and relegated to the stone age. Many web-based news organisations wound up their operations and their staffers started looking for jobs instead. The internet blockade spelled doom for these fledging organisations as they could not stay afloat. Their online rankings that would earn them revenue fell, resulting in their inevitable closure.
Even some well-established mainstream media organisations could not sustain the impact as they resorted to job and salary cuts. For example, some of the biggest media houses like Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Reader slashed salaries of their staffers as well as laid off employees. Amid the gloom, the most dispiriting situation was seeing colleagues leaving offices and rendered jobless without being served a compulsory advance notice.
This in the face of the summons and harassment to journalists while being kept huddled at the media facilitation centre for a mere internet access has aggravated the crisis for media in the region.
This is why even foreign envoys including European Union diplomats wanted to learn from selected media persons in Srinagar how they could work without internet.
Since August 10, the government set up the media centre, which journalists in the Valley infamously refer to as “sub-jail”, for journalists to send dispatches. Amid this, journalists were summoned to reveal sources of their stories. Many others were questioned for their stories and as recently as February 16, a multimedia journalist Kamran Yousuf was picked in a nocturnal raid from his home in south Kashmir’s Pulwama. According to him, the Deputy Superintendent of Police and the Station House Office Pulwama Police Station alongside policemen entered his home and took him to their office at 11pm for questioning about some unknown Twitter account. He was let go at 1am while his distraught family members were waiting in the dead of cold night.
A young journalist who is paid a paltry salary said that his mother was repeatedly telling him to quit the profession and take some other job but he has thus far been able to resist. But after Kamran’s midnight raid, he said he is seriously thinking of quitting as a midnight knock on the door at his home would leave his ailing mother distraught. One of the most serious casualties of the internet shutdown has been the Kashmiri media – once vibrant and diverse, now struggling to survive.
A journalist who lost his job during the last six months had to look for alternative work to sustain his family. He said that he could not bear medical expenses of his wife and had to take medicines on credit that too after his friend acted as a guarantor with pharmacy.
These depressing anecdotes apart from the watching humiliation faced by journalists irrespective of age and experience has had a scathing impact on young minds. This has forced them to rethink whether the profession they are about to enter is worth pursuing amid the increased vulnerabilities and insecurity.
Statements of the Kashmir Press Club on the intolerable situation faced by journalists
Police picks journalist in nocturnal raid
Srinagar: Kashmir Press Club on Monday took serious note of the continuous harassment of journalists in the Valley.
On Sunday night, a multimedia journalist Kamran Yousuf working with the Newsclick was picked up from his home by the police. Recalling the details, Kamran said that a police party led by Dysp and SHO Pulwama entered his home around 11pm and knocked on the door.
“I saw policemen surrounding our premises. The police official asked me come along and snatched my phones,” he said.
According to him, he was taken in a police vehicle to the office of Dysp and questioned about some twitter account run by Kamran Manzoor. “They checked my phones and searched everything on it. They asked me about some Kamran Manzoor and showed me his twitter account. The police officer said we had suspicion that you are running it,” said Kamran.
He said that finally after failing to find anything that they were looking for, the police official called some officer on phone and let him go at 1 am in the dead of night. “My distraught family members were waiting outside and took me home,” he added.
The police’s nocturnal raid at the house of a journalist has once again highlighted the dangers faced by journalists in the Valley.
The Kashmir Press Club demands home minister Amit Shah as well as the J&K government to take note of the appalling conditions in which press in Kashmir is working since August 5 last year. As such, it is once again urged that the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression and speech be respected in the region by allowing press and journalists to function freely.
Dated: Feb 17, 2020
Journalists in Kashmir break silence over physical attacks, harassment and summons by police
Srinagar: The Kashmir Press Club on Monday convened an urgent meeting to discuss physical attacks, threats, intimidation being meted out to the journalists in Kashmir by J&K Police.
The meeting in which representatives of all journalists associations took part noted with concern that from first day since Article 370 was removed on August 5, the government is not enabling journalists and media to operate freely from the Valley.
This is evident from the prolonged six-month internet shutdown in the region since August 5. As if that was not enough, physical attacks, threats and summons to journalists are being employed by security agencies to intimidate journalists. In fact, the summons and harassment to journalists to Police’s counter-insurgency centre (Cargo) in Srinagar has become a routine exercise. The harassment and questioning of journalists in Kashmir on flimsy grounds by the J&K Police for their work is in fact a damning verdict on the appalling condition in which media is operating.
The restrictions on internet and forcibly seeking undertakings from news organizations for allowing limited internet access, constant surveillance by police and physical attacks and summons all are the tools designed and aimed to ensure only government-promoted version is heard outside. However, the meeting today made it clear that journalists are within their rights to report about the happenings from Kashmir impartially and truthfully.
That the journalists have been harassed and are being subjected to harassment is evident by the fact that since August 5, several journalists reporting from Kashmir were summoned and questioned by police for their work.
Kashmir Press Club joined by all journalist bodies in Kashmir asked the government to stop practice of summons and attacks on journalists. Being the Fourth Estate, they said, the government should ensure freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed in the constitution instead of muzzling the press. Viewing media as part of problem in Kashmir and blaming journalists for everything wrong is quite misplaced.
On August 14 2019, Irfan Amin Malik was picked up from his residence in Tral and let go next day without any reason.
“On 14th of August 2019, government forces barged into my house and detained me. I was kept inside the police station for a night. My family reached media facilitation centre where they along with media briefed government about my detention and then finally I was released,” said MR Irfan.
On September 1, 2019 senior journalist Peerzada Ashiq who works for The Hindu was summoned to Kothi Bagh Police Station where he was questioned and pressurized to reveal source of his story. “I was asked to reveal my sources, who shared official data on detentions with the newspaper,” Mr. Ashiq was asked during the questioning.
In November, a freelance photojournalist Muzamil Mattoo was beaten in downtown Srinagar while covering KhojjeDigar prayers.
December 17, 2019: Two journalists, AzaanJavaid (The Print) and AneesZargar (Newsclick) were beaten up by police in full public glare in Srinagar while covering a protest. Despite assurances by the police, no action was initiated against the accused cops. They saidthe police officer who was part of the officials who thrashed them explicitly said “Why did you carry stories against me?” referring to stories filed earlier.
On November 30, Bashaarat Masood (Indian Express) and Hakeem Irfan (Economic Times) were summoned to Cargo where they were grilled by police officials for their stories. The duo said that they were asked to reveal their sources and how did they manage to get the documents.
On December 23, Bashaarat Masood of Indian Express and SafwatZargar of scroll were stopped by police at Handwara while they were on an assignment. They were taken to the office of Superintendent of Police Handwara. They were questioned about the story and told that by doing the story they are trying to provoke the situation.
Naseer Ganai, who works with Outlook magazine along with a journalist Haroon Nabi was summoned to the Cargo on February 8 where they were questioned for reporting a statement of JKLF which stands banned by the government. “I was asked to reveal email ID from which I had got the statement,” said Mr Naseer.
Kashmir Press Club
Dated: February 10,2020