Complain of unofficial censorship, life-threatening situations in Valley.
Srinagar: The brutal murder of Syed Shujaat Bukhari rekindled apprehensions and even instilled fear in Kashmir’s journalism fraternity which has been working on the razor’s edge ever since the separatist campaign burst into a major violence in 1989-90.
The police was quick to blame the Bukhari’s killing on June 14 separatist militants and soon named Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) cadres based in Pakistan for hatching the “conspiracy” which, as per its claim, was executed by the outfit’s three members including two locals and a Pakistani national in Srinagar’s media hub Mushtaq Press Enclave.
At a time when the Valley’s media fraternity was expecting a real breakthrough in the case and the unmasking of the perpetrators through the police’s filing a chargesheet against them in court, it has been treated to a rude shock by it.
On the August 27, the police picked up Aasif Sultan, an assistant editor at monthly Kashmir Narrator (KN), from his residence for questioning. The police also seized his laptop, cellphones and other documents which it termed as “incriminating” later.
Aasif was formally arrested on September 1 and booked for offences under the state’s Ranbir Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, including relating to conspiracy, “harbouring a terrorist” and “support given to a terrorist organisation”.
While he is currently in judicial custody, the authorities have got the Twitter handle of ‘KN’ suspended. This has, as pointed out also by Amnesty International (AI), raised serious concerns about the deteriorating state of press freedom in Kashmir.
Police officials have rejected criticism and sought to justify Aasif’s arrest by saying “you have to draw a line- be a journalist or a jihadi.”
The reality for journalists in Kashmir is that they are struggling in worse conditions. “At times we face lot of pressure from the militants too. The reality for us is that everyone wishes to conquer us and, therefore, uses coercive tactics,” said a senior journalist.
“The story doesn’t end there or with Aasif. The media persons in Kashmir are being constantly harassed, intimated and even subjected to physically violence routinely by the uniformed men and other official agencies,” said Bashir Manzar, general secretary of Kashmir Editors’ Guild (KEG).
He said that for the past some time disturbing trends of the police and other official agencies’ adopting different tactics to target journalists in Kashmir are emerging and Aasif is the latest instance of this onslaught. “He was being asked to disclose his sources which is a crude attack on the freedom of press and has not happened even during the Emergency,” said Mr Manzar who is also the editor of Kashmir Images newspaper.
Some police officials have openly accused journalists and newspapers in Kashmir of glorifying militants and their outfits. Others except them to give more space to “positive news” and “development works”.
Mr Manzar termed it being unrealistic and said, “In Kashmir some good as well as some bad things are happening. As a reporter you have to cover the both. How can you ask a reporter to cover one and ignore the other?”
After the heyday of militancy in the 1990s, the media persons were in real trouble again during the unrests of 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016, facing an unofficial censorship, harassment, intimidation and even life-threatening situations. The struggle is real, and continues.