Editorial: End policy of intimidating journalists by criminal cases

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The detention grounds of young journalist Sajad Gul that includes doing “less reporting about the welfare” of Jammu and Kashmir but rather “promoting enmity” has set a dangerous precedent for the journalists working in the conflict-ridden region.

Gul, who joined The Kashmir Walla in December, was booked under Public Safety Act (PSA) last week and is currently lodged at Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal jail. He has been accused of being a critic of the government policies. The dossier has sent a clear warning to the Kashmir based journalists that anyone critical towards the government could land up in jail.

Journalists are considered watchdogs, whose primary job is to report the facts irrespective of whether it augurs well with the current dispensation or not. The detention grounds of Gul have sent a direct threat to the journalists for carrying out their professional duties. It has also eroded the basic ethics of journalism, which doesn’t mean to be a PR agency of the government. Journalism is to be objective, making the profession the “fourth pillar of democracy”.

For the past two years, especially after the central government unilaterally withdrew the limited autonomous state of Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August 2019, journalism has been facing the brunt. Many journalists have been booked, arrested, summoned and intimidated mainly after carrying critical reports against the government‘s version.

The new normal is killing the very essence of journalism in Kashmir, where the government is not ready to listen to its mistakes. It rather expects journalists to be its mouthpiece to correct the government’s image among the general public. That’s not the job of journalists.

Being a critic of the government is not a crime. Instead, rather than arresting and intimidating journalists for pointing out the loopholes in the system, the government should appreciate them for doing their job sincerely. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Kashmir. It is all happening at a time when the government has shutdown the only space for Kashmir’s journalists – Kashmir Press Club. The sequence of events that followed to seal the space for journalists is nothing but condemnable. It shows government aims to slowly stop journalists from working. 

Working in a suppressing atmosphere in which the journalists have been forced into, it seems that grounds for Gul’s detention is only the beginning of what is coming. There seem to be more hurdles that the fraternity would face in the future. The government should rethink its policy of intimidating journalists and criminalising journalism as free press plays a significant role in shaping any society. 

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