Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti today wrote to the Press Council of India asking it to take notice of harassment, raids and snooping of journalists in the Valley and send a fact-finding team to J&K, to independently verify these claims and take remedial action.
Mehbooba Mufti said one had hoped that the Press Council of India would take a suo moto note of 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.
She said it becomes incumbent upon her to urge the PCI to send a fact-finding team to J&K, to independently verify these claims and take remedial action.
“I am sure you are aware that raids were conducted by 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 & 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,” Mehbooba says.
“In a democratic set up, a free & independent press is crucial & 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 & expression enshrined in the Indian constitution have increasingly come under attack especially in the last two years by a hostile & insecure dispensation,” she adds.
“People at large & media especially in J&K has been at the receiving end of this policy. Unwarranted harassment of journalists has become a norm & this policy has been implemented by raiding their homes, summoning & 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,” the letter reads.
“Reportedly 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,” she says.
“In addition to this, 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,” she says.
“I strongly believe 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. 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,” she says.
With her letter she enclosed copy of a questionnaire that has been served to the journalists who are being currently investigated by the State. “You will note that apart from asking very irrelevant and personal questions it is based on the assumption that their personal ties and loyalties lie with anti-national networks. Unfortunately, this is a diabolical method to perpetuate the communal mindset throughout the country in order to gain political mileage and relevance by demeaning & marginalising an entire community,” she adds.