A collective of lawyers, academicians, activists, and journalists – based across the world – Kashmir Reading Room (KRR) has called on the government in Jammu and Kashmir to end the harassment of Kashmiri journalists and lawyers.
Marking a year since the Government of India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J-K), the collective further noted that “[since 5 August 2019] scores of journalists, lawyers, activists, politicians have been regularly summoned for questioning at police stations, some have been booked under anti terror laws, some allege they may be under surveillance and yet others continue to be jailed or under house arrest, even now.”
While talking about the difficulties that journalists and lawyers faced because of then imposed communication blackout, the KRR stated in the report, (Dis)Integration at Gunpoint, that the “non-availability of 4G internet has made it difficult for journalists to file their reports, and for lawyers to argue matters through video conferences.”
The KRR also documented several cases of harassment of Kashmiri journalists in its report, including the booking of Masrat Zahra and Gowhar Geelani under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA and the questioning of Peerzada Ashiq. It also mentioned the detention of two Kashmiri journalists — Qazi Shibli and Asif Sultan.
It also noted the summoning of the Kashmir Walla’s founding editor, Fahad Shah on 10 June after the newspaper reported about a gunfight in Srinagar. “An FIR has also been filed against him under sections 147, 307, 109, 501, 505 of the Indian Penal Code,” the report added. It also noted previous incidents of harassment with Mr. Shah by the government forces.
It stated that in recent weeks, this alleged “interference” is in the form of policies being launched in the UT, such as the new media policy. They state that there is also an attempt “to limit the financial sustainability of media by placing arbitrary restraints on advertising.” The group has also recorded that journalists and lawyers have also been on the receiving end of extra-judicial actions, “ranging from assassinations, death threats, to intimidation.”
The collective has put forth two main demands to the authorities: “Stop harassment of Kashmiri journalists and Kashmiri lawyers.”
They add that while the attacks on the media could be addressed by court that too is not accessible to most journalists in Jammu and Kashmir. “With the suspension of Habeas Corpus rights and the arrest of lawyers, these are unprecedented times of peril for the people of Kashmir. However, with the arrest of prominent lawyers in Kashmir, the already feeble system has come to a breaking point,” one of the Reading Room members, who chose to remain anonymous, told Sabrang.
Invoking provision of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — Article 9: The prohibition on arbitrary arrest and detention, Article 14: The right to a fair and public trial, Article 18: Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, Article 19: Right to freedom of expression — the members of the KRR demanded the Government of India to “uphold their commitment to human dignity and morality… must end the harassment of journalists and lawyers in Kashmir and law enforcement agencies must enable journalists and lawyers to work freely in safety.”