CPJ asks India to release detained Kashmiri journalist Qazi Shibli

NEW YORK, July 19 (APP): The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent watchdog body, has called on authorities in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir to stop harassing and obstructing the media, and lift the ban on newspaper operations.

The ban on newspapers came on top of the shutdown of cable TV operators and private cellphone service, actions imposed by the Indian government as it struggles to control angry street protests against the killing of a popular Kashmiri leader 11 days ago.

Police raided newspaper offices in Srinagar early on the morning of July 16, halting printing presses, confiscating printed papers due for delivery, and briefly detaining printing and delivery staff, according to news reports. Publications including Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir, Daily Kashmir Images, Kashmir Observer, and Kashmir Reader have been affected, making it harder to access current and accurate information.

“The Indian government should immediately lift its ban on newspaper operations and restore the free flow of information,” Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator, said in a statement on Monday. “It’s obvious that Kashmir’s longstanding difficulties have nothing to do with the operation of a free press, and that preventing professional journalists from doing their jobs can only make the situation worse.”

The crackdown on the press follows a period of unrest in Kashmir, marked by the July 8 killing of separatist leader Burhan Wani. Protesters have defied a curfew imposed by authorities, and daily clashes with police have left at least 44 people dead, according to news reports.

The newspaper ban may last at least until Wednesday, a government official told editors, according to the reports.
“Kashmir gagged,” said the headline in the Indian Express newspaper on Sunday in New Delhi. On Sunday, the Indian Journalists Union said this was “unacceptable in a democracy.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has called on Indian authorities to credibly and impartially investigate police use of force during protests in Jammu and Kashmir state.

Since the killing of Burhan, demonstrations have occurred in various parts of the state in which protesters have hurled rocks. State security forces have responded by firing pellet guns, teargas, and live ammunition.

“Rock-throwing at demonstrations is serious but does not provide police a free pass to use force against protesters,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said. “The Indian authorities need to send a clear message that lethal force is only an option when a life is at imminent risk, and those misusing force will be held accountable.”

“A major grievance of those protesting in Kashmir is the failure of authorities to respect basic human rights,” Ganguly said. “Ensuring that rights are protected and prosecuting those responsible for abuses would be an important first step.”