Srinagar: The President of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mehbooba Mufti, on Monday wrote to the Press Council of India and Editors Guild of India – the two top journalism bodies in the country, pointing out “intimidation, snooping and harassment of journalists in Kashmir”.
She has demanded that a fact-finding team be sent to probe these allegations.
In the letter addressed to the secretary of the Press Council of India, Mufti writes that raids were conducted by Jammu and Kashmir police at homes of several journalists in Kashmir earlier this month.
“Personal items such as electronic gadgets including phones & laptops were illegally seized along with ATM cards and passports of their spouses. This comes close on the heels of the harrowing experiences that the journalist community in Jammu and Kashmir has been subject to post the abrogation of Article 370 by the Indian government,” she adds.
Mufti also points out that in a democratic set up, “a free and independent press is crucial and essential for government institutions to function in a transparent manner with due accountability towards its citizens. We have witnessed the manner in which fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Indian constitution have increasingly come under attack especially in the last two years by a hostile & insecure dispensation.”
Mufti wirtes that the “unwarranted harassment of journalists has become a norm and this policy has been implemented by raiding their homes, summoning and interrogating them on frivolous grounds such as innocuous tweets, conducting background checks of journalists and their family members by CID, withdrawal of benefits including accommodation of some senior journalists, seizure of mobile phones, laptops, confiscating passports , ATM cards etc.”
In the past two years, several journalists have been summoned, detained or booked by the police over various charges. In a recent report, two journalists were detained at the airport in Delhi, disallowing them from flying abroad.
The letter points out that 23 journalists have been put on ECL. (Exit control list). Even students who bag scholarships in prestigious colleges in top universities of world not allowed to go study there. Recently a student was deboarded from a plane,arrested and subsequently released.
In addition to this, Mufti writes, “a sizeable number of journalists are either threatened or charged with sections under UAPA or sedition law, simply because their reportage on J&K does not cater to the PR stunts of the ruling dispensation. Reporting truth to power is being criminalised with every passing day.”
Mufti ads that the journalists working and reporting in J-K are amongst “the bravest in the world especially at a time when a large section of the Indian media has become a propaganda extension of the Central Government”.
She also notes that the hostile environment that “they operate in with frequent curfews, encounters, hartals and other adverse security situations has not weakened their determination to ensure that truth doesn’t become a casualty. There have always been issues and disagreements between the State and media but never before has the freedom of expression been virtually guillotined in any part of the country as it has been done in J&K for the past three years.”
The letter is also attached with a “copy of a questionnaire that has been served to the journalists who are being currently investigated by the State.”
Mufti has asked the Press Council of India “would take a suo moto note of these widely reported incidents but it seems that no established watchdog forum, including the Courts, has taken any interest in the painful circumstances created in J-K, not to speak of any interventions.
“It therefore becomes incumbent upon me to urge you to send a fact-finding team to JK, to independently verify these claims and take remedial action,” she adds.
In the past, Mehbooba’s Mufti’s government with the BJP had been criticised for coming down hard on the press in Kashmir.
During her tenure, popular Daily Kashmir Reader was banned and scores of journalists summoned, intimidated and threatened. Kashmir Reader remained off the stands for nearly three months after which the government decided to let it publish.