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60 Days And Counting: Journalists In Kashmir Stage Protest Against Communication Blockade

Photo: Abid Bhat

Srinagar: Hundreds of Kashmiri Journalist on Thursday held a protest demonstration against the communication blockade by the BJP-led Central government. The sit-in was held on the 60th day of the communication gag.

Carrying playing cards which read “End Press Gag, Stop Criminalizing Journalism, Rescue us from the Sub-Jail, what you call Media facilitation centre”, journalists from different media associations gathered inside the premises of Press Club Kashmir and demanded free access to the internet and communication from the government.

“We are here to protest the communication gag and we press for the restoration of internet and mobile services to all the Journalists,” said Farzana Mumtaza, editor of a Kashmir-based magazine.

“We are being humiliated by the government; we aren’t free to work as they have made us depended on them,” said another Journalist Malik Sajid who works with Kashmir Scenario magazine.

The Kashmir Valley has been in a state of lockdown since 5 August, when the government effectively abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted Jammu and Kashmir a special status, and downgraded the state into two union territories.

The government’s announcements were followed by a heavy security clampdown, a communications blackout and large-scale arrests and detentions in the state.

Journalists hold placards during sit in protest against communication blockade in Srinagar, October 05, 2019. Photo: Abid Bhat

According to a statement from the Press Club Kashmir, the protesting journalists said, while limiting the access of media to a hall hired at a private hotel designated as Media Facilitation Centre – where the government has set-up nine computers and a cell phone connection for over 400 journalists – the government has attempted to prevent the information out of the valley.

The ongoing communication blockade has crippled media in the region. With internet access, mobile phone services remaining suspended and no access to the wires, just a few local newspapers are published.

Journalists representing national and international media are dependent on the government’s media facilitation centre in Srinagar, which has internet, but no Wi-Fi access. Most of the journalists write stories and then take it in the pen drive and file it in the Media facilitation centre. They then reproduce the same in their newspapers with some skeletal reports on the local situation.

According to the local journalists, news gathering has become the causality due to internet and mobile ban.

Journalists hold placards during sit in protest against communication blockade in Srinagar, October 05, 2019. Photo: Abid Bhat

The district reporters of the various Kashmiri newspapers who had come to participate in the protest said they are not able to report anything since August 5 due to communication blockade and they fear they might lose their jobs.

All the media associations representing journalists, photojournalists, video-journalists, editors of local newspapers and members of the Kashmir Press Club, participated in the peaceful protest to highlight the problems faced by the journalists due to the communication blockade that was imposed by the government during the night on August 4, 2019.

The protesting journalists described the communication blockade, including the snapping of internet services across all the platforms as an attempt to muzzle the press in the valley.

The statement further reads that the communication blackout, especially the snapping of internet and mobile services, is seriously hampering the professional work of journalists operating in the valley.

“How long can the journalists of Valley rely solely on official releases and occasional press briefings that have always been a one-way communication?”

“By holding the joint sit-in protest today the journalistic fraternity of Kashmir wants to convey in unambiguous terms that they had enough of it – sixty days of restrictions on media, sixty days without any communication and sixty days of an information blackout from the government.” The statement said.

Journalists hold placards during sit in protest against communication blockade in Srinagar, October 05, 2019. Photo: Abid Bhat

While highlighting the problems faced by the media fraternity in Kashmir, the protesting journalists said that they are unable to cover their assignments due to the prevailing communication gag imposed by the government. In absence of the internet and broadband services, the local newspapers published from Srinagar have not been able to upload their internet editions or update the news on the web portals.

There have been no clear answers from the government that why it has barricaded the Kashmiri journalist fraternity under a communication blockade, the protesting journalists said. “The government must come up with an answer on how long the crackdown on the press would continue?”

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