A day after the J-K government banned the publication of the Srinagar-based English daily Kashmir Reader, journalists from the valley on Monday took to the streets demanding an immediate revocation of the ban. The Kashmir Editors Guild (KEG), which termed the ban as “against the spirit of democracy and freedom of press”, sought intervention of the Press Council of India and warned of “direct action” if the government failed to revoke the ban immediately.
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On Monday, the valley journalists hit streets seeking revocation of the ban order against Kashmir Reader — launched from Srinagar six years ago. Holding placards that read ‘Is it martial law in Kashmir?’, ‘Return of Dark age’ and ‘Revoke ban’, the journalists marched towards the Directorate of Information and Public Relations. However, the officials at the Directorate didn’t allow the journalists to meet Director Dr Shahid Iqbal Chowdhary.
“It (ban) is condemnable. Without any warning and without explaining how the newspaper is inciting violence, the government has taken a very harsh decision,” said political editor of Rising Kashmir Faisul Yasin. “To ban a newspaper doesn’t behove of the government that boasts of its democratic credentials”.
On Sunday, the J-K government ordered ban on the publication of Kashmir Reader. The ban order issued by Deputy Commissioner Srinagar Farooq Ahmad Lone read that the newspaper contains “material and content which tends to incite acts of violence and disturb public peace and tranquility”. An official release issued by the Director Information Chowdhary said the ban order was issued a week after a notice was served to the newspaper, asking it to explain its position on a series of stories published by it.
“This is a lie. We didn’t receive any notice. The only notice we received was the ban order,” said Mohammad Moazzum, a senior journalist of the newspaper. “We have been reporting what was reported by other newspapers as well. We didn’t invent anything. The only thing I see is that we reported extensively of what was happening on the ground. They have said that our newspaper incites violence. How? The want to maintain peace by banning the newspapers. If they had any problem with our stories, they would have, officially or unofficially, conveyed it to us. But they didn’t,” he said.
While the working journalists protested against the ban, the Kashmir Editors Guild held an emergency meeting in Srinagar and asked the government to revoke the ban immediately.
“The ban, without any prior notice to the Printer, Publisher and Owner of Kashmir Reader is against the basic spirit of democracy as well as the freedom of press,” it said. “The government order, banning the newspaper, is vague and unclear about the charges for which such a harsh step has been taken”.
The ban on Kashmir Reader is the second major decision taken by the government about the functioning of media in valley since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani triggered protests in valley.
In July, the state government banned the publication of newspapers from valley for several days terming it a “reluctant decision” and a “temporary measure to address an extra-ordinary situation”. After facing a severe backlash, the government deflected the blame on the police for taking the decision and asked the newspapers to resume publication.
Who said what on the ban:
Syed Ali Shah Geelani: “This is one of the darkest chapters in the history of the press in Jammu & Kashmir,” Geelani said. “(It is) another indication of the Indian occupation authorities taking off their masks of democracy, law and constitutionality. It isn’t thus ironical that the stated reason for shutting down this popular newspaper is ‘possible incitement to violence and disturbing peace’”.
Yasin Malik: “The ban on daily Kashmir Reader is another tactic of suppressing true voices of Kashmiris and a ploy to intimidate all from writing truth and reality,” Malik said.
Engineer Rashid: “On one hand some so-called national TV channels have been given a free hand to defame and hurt the sentiments of Kashmiris and on the other hand any credible voice in J&K is being curbed with draconian laws,” the independent legislator said.
Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA): “It is the worst form of political vendetta. The government is crossing all limits of oppression to muzzle people of Kashmir,” said KEA chairperson Mohammad Yasin Khan. “The government plan is now clear that it doesn’t want the just voice of the people of Kashmir be conveyed to the outside world”.
Jamat-e-Islami: “It is undemocratic and atrocious,” Jamat said. “It is extremely unfortunate that at one side media across the globe is treated as ‘fourth pillar’ of democracy but within the peripheries of Jammu and Kashmir the rights of media are being muzzled and trampled in every respect and speaking on behalf of oppressed and hapless Kashmiris, media is particularly on target”.
J-K Coalition of Civil Society: “The ban on Kashmir Reader, is a mala fide and arbitrary exercise of State power,” JKCCS said. “The ongoing repression of the freedom of press and internationally and domestically recognized fundamental human rights of free speech, thought and expression by the Indian State in Kashmir, is indicative of India’s intention to block access to information and attention to the ongoing widespread and systematic human rights abuses and impunity in Kashmir”.
Kashmir Centre for Social and Developmental Studies (KCSDS): “The allegation of incitement to violence is a mere excuse to throttle the public voice which spoke through this paper and many others,” the civil society group said. “This is a covert warning to other largely circulated papers to fall in line and avoid telling the truth of the current situation”.
Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah: “It is extremely shameful on part of those raising slogans like ‘battle of ideas’ and ‘bullets not, talks’” the separatist leader said. “The so-called government must never even utter a word about the ‘freedom of speech and expression’ as it doesn’t suit them. These people choke the space of their people just to please their masters in New Delhi and Nagpur”.