Local journalists assaulted, censored in Kashmir

New York, August 25, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns restrictions on the media by security forces trying to quell unrest in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Central Reserve Police Forces beat at least 10 journalists for reporting on Sunday during a strict curfew imposed indefinitely on major towns in the Kashmir Valley to restrain anti-government protesters, according to international news reports. The journalists were carrying official passes issued by the local government to guarantee them free passage during the curfew, the reports said.

No newspapers were published today in Srinagar because of disruptions, according to daily Asian Age reporter Yusuf Jameel, who spoke with CPJ by telephone from Srinagar. The Associated Press reported that paramilitary forces beat two more news photographers with curfew passes today. Police killed five people in clashes with protesters defying the curfew on Sunday and Monday, AP reported.

Local authorities have also banned all news programming on local television channels, according to news reports.

“We call on local authorities in Kashmir to protect journalists reporting on the unrest,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “News about the conflict should be broadcast without restrictions on media outlets or reporters in the field.”

Jameel told CPJ that although the curfew had been lifted and re-imposed once, authorities had told journalists before Sunday’s attacks that their former curfew passes were still valid. Fresh passes were later issued, he said, but it was very difficult to reach the relevant offices in order to pick them up. “We’re not being allowed to move about freely,” Jameel said.

At least one of the journalists injured on Sunday, Bilal Bhat, who works for a private television channel, was still being treated for a rib fracture in a Srinagar hospital, Jameel said. 

Jameel had an Internet connection but said many residents of Kashmir are relying on national cable broadcasts and international radio stations for information about the unrest.

Insurgents who dispute Indian rule of the Muslim-majority state, which is also claimed by Pakistan, have waged a violent independence movement claiming tens of thousands of lives since 1989, according to news reports. Photojournalist Ashok Sodhi was killed in crossfire in Kashmir in May.

Stability in the region deteriorated further in June when separatist groups rallied Muslim protesters over the transfer of local land to a Hindu shrine.