India must stop restricting journalists in Kashmir

New York, July 9, 2010—National authorities in India must immediately address complaints from local journalists in Indian-controlled Kashmir who say they are being stopped from covering the government crackdown on protests that have killed 15 people.

In statements e-mailed to CPJ, the Kashmir Press Association, the Press Guild of Kashmir, the Kashmir Journalists Corps the Press Photographers, and the Video Journalists Association have complained that a government-imposed curfew has kept their staff from covering the situation.

In a message sent on Thursday, the Press Guild of Kashmir said the government has “virtually banned the local media but was extending all facilities to media persons coming from Delhi and other parts of India to cover the situation here.” The message said that even local journalists working for national and international media were having a hard time getting passes to allow them to move around during curfew hours, “while their counterparts who came from Delhi and other parts are roaming free to cover the events.”

The BBC reported that one of its BBC Urdu service journalists, Riaz Masroor, was stopped and beaten by police as he was going to collect his curfew pass on Friday. He suffered a fractured arm, the BBC said.

“It is illogical to restrict the movement of some journalists and not others,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “There is no justification for authorities to stop reporters from doing their job in Kashmir—whether they are locally based or are covering the story on assignment from another region.”

In a joint message today, the groups said the government’s claims that it had eased the restrictions were “eyewash” and that only some editors, but not field reporters, had been allowed to move during curfew hours. The groups said that many of the area’s more than 60 newspapers decided to suspend publication because of the small number of curfew passes issued to staff and continued attacks on media, a claim substantiated by the BBC and other reports.

Local and international media reports say thousands of police officers and troops from the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force have been deployed across the summer capital Srinagar city to enforce the curfew and restrict movement in and around the city. The Associated Press reported today that thousands of people defied a curfew across Indian-controlled Kashmir to pray in small mosques and in open fields, protesting India’s presence in the disputed area.

Journalists in Kashmir have long been abused. In January, one was shot and five others assaulted after a 22-hour battle between militants and local authorities in Srinagar, the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. CPJ has reported on many more incidents over the years.