‘It’s a clear violation of int’l standards of freedom of expression’
UK-based human rights organisation Article 19 has expressed deep concern over what it termed "the ongoing blanket of communication restriction, harassment and intimidation of journalists" and "the shrinking press freedom" in Jammu and Kashmir.
"It is a clear violation of international freedom of expression standards in the country," said the organisation's South Asia Regional Director Faruq Faisel in a statement yesterday, marking one year since India abrogated the Article 370 and 35A of its constitution that provided some autonomy to the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.
A year has gone by with activists, journalists, and local and international organisations pleading to the Indian government to restore some normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, but it has fallen to deaf ears, the rights body said.
Article 19 said the Indian government has used the pandemic to impose further lockdowns in the region. It is tightening the grip over the region to curb any sort of dissent and the State is using frequent intimidation and harassment as a tool to stifle Kashmiri journalists, the statement said.
"Many journalists in Jammu and Kashmir have been arrested, detained, and interrogated for reporting under the lockdown, without any legitimate reason given by the authorities," it added.
Additionally, the Indian government has now implemented a New Media Policy 2020 for Jammu and Kashmir, which further increases the government's control over journalists and press in the region.
The 50-page policy document mentions one of its objectives as "To thwart misinformation, fake news and be alert to any attempts to use media to incite communal passions, preach violence or to propagate any information prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India."
Article 19 said this policy gives Jammu and Kashmir's Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) the de facto right to exercise pre- and post-publication control over all journalism in the territory for the next five years.
"This is of great concern, considering that a year has gone by with no stop to the violence and ease of the restrictions put on Jammu and Kashmir and this new policy essentially giving the government a leeway to prosecute and discredit any journalist who stand to critique the State," said Faruq Faisel.