“You are from the press, you are not allowed,” a local Kashmiri news editor says Indian security forces told him yesterday at one of the dozens of checkpoints set up across the region.
Journalists aren’t able to report, it’s hard to move around, and many have been restricted from shooting videos or taking photographs, the journalist told CPJ via a messaging app. He is the only journalist that CPJ has been able to reach on the ground in Kashmir since the near total communications blackout in the region began on August 4. We are withholding his name for security reasons. “I fear that they will arrest journalists, especially those who will report what is happening,” he said.
What is happening is that the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken measures to toss constitutional provisions that underpinned Kashmir’s agreement to join India 72 years ago, removing the legal framework supporting its limited autonomous rule. The decision in the world’s largest democracy was made without asking the people of Kashmir—or even telling them. Authorities have set up military-manned checkpoints and concertina wire throughout the city of Srinagar. They’ve arrested key local political figures, according to news reports, but since they have also cut off any and all forms of communication, including landline phones, people in the region have no easy way, or any way at all, to find out.
India has had plenty of practice blocking communications, having frequently unplugged the internet in Kashmir and elsewhere, according to the Software Freedom Law Centre. But the move is only likely to exacerbate fear and frustration among Kashmiri people, who have long fought for self-determination. As reports of protests, injuries, and casualties trickle out, increasing the environment of uncertainty, accurate and verified information from Kashmir is crucial.
Over the past few days, we have attempted to reach any and all contacts we have in the region to get a better understanding via phone calls, emails, and messaging services, with little luck. One wire service reporter based in New Delhi told CPJ that photojournalists in Kashmir were having difficulty sending photos, so they have loaded them on flash drives and given them to people flying out of the region. He spoke on condition of anonymity given company policy. The Telegraph’s Srinagar reporter, Muzaffar Raina, reported that he typed out his reports on his computer, took screenshots, and sent them on a flash drive to New Delhi, from where they were transmitted to the newspaper’s office in Kolkata.
At CPJ we have had to largely rely on accounts of journalists who have left the region, aside from the one editor we were able to reach on the ground. Here is what the journalists told us:
The local news editor cited above, messaging with CPJ today:
I along with a few other journalists were thrashed by police on August 6th in downtown Srinagar near Khanyar after one of the photographers had clicked a photo of the barricade. They also took a photo of one of our ID cards, snatched cameras and phones, deleted photos and then also clicked photo of the vehicle plate.
And the same editor messaging with CPJ on August 6:
Hundreds of arrests are being made here and the communication is jammed. I guess the state would be keen on looking at what information goes out. I am writing several stories using prohibited network and I guess that could become an issue in a day or two. So please do take care of things if anything happens.
Freelance reporter Adnan Bhat, on a call over messaging app today from New Delhi, after leaving Kashmir:
Very few newspapers have published, but mostly being circulated late at night. Last night I saw copies of Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Uzma. Greater Kashmir, which usually comes out with 30-odd pages, is only printing five to six pages. Journalists had gone to the District Magistrate’s office for curfew pass but they were asked to come back later. Even government officials are confused as it is not officially a curfew. In fact, it is easier to move around without a press card. If you tell the security personnel that you are a journalist, they try to stop you.
Ahmer Khan, a freelance reporter, told CPJ today on a call over messaging app, after leaving Kashmir:
When I tried to move around in Srinagar, I was stopped at barricades and abused by the security forces. I decided not to argue and took another route. Local journalists are not reporting because they are being constantly harassed.
The following are excerpts from published reports by journalists:
Deputy editor Muzamil Jaleel and reporters Bashaarat Masood and Adil Akhzer, Indian Express, yesterday:
For the past two days, the Indian Express reporters have been holed up in their office from where they walk around to meet residents and then return. In the office building itself, dozens of policemen have moved in, the corridors their temporary shelter … The press isn’t welcome. Most of the TV crew that have flown in are parked in a 1-sq-km area of Zero Bridge [a historical bridge connecting the Rajbagh and Sonwar neighborhoods] in the city. There is some easing of security here, on the road to the airport and the Rajbagh-Jawaharnagar stretch [neighborhoods in southern part of city] — this is the one that visiting TV cameras film. Elsewhere, roads are barricaded with spools of concertina wire and regular checkpoints with police and armed paramilitary personnel on patrol.”
Muzaffar Raina, The Telegraph, today:
The “curfew” in large areas means reporters have little freedom to move. The crushing information blockade, with mobile and landline phones shut down and Internet suspended, means they have no way to send their stories. The authorities have not issued curfew passes to journalists because officially there is no curfew.
In the Jammu region, where section 144, which restricts public meetings, is also imposed, journalists told CPJ there are restrictions on the media, though not as severe as in Kashmir valley.
Anuradha Basin, editor of Kashmir Times, told CPJ via messaging app and email yesterday from Jammu:
Within the Jammu region mobile data, and mobile communication was suspended and movement of journalists was restricted except for in the cities of Jammu, Samba, and Kathua … Newspaper distributors have been stopped in some areas, particularly north of Jammu city.
Raqib Hameed Naik, reporter for the U.S.-based The Globe Post said in a call today over messaging app:
While journalists in some cities of Jammu are not facing major restriction, the same can’t be said of Kishtwar and Doda districts in Chenab Valley. Some journalists here are being stopped and not allowed to perform professional duties by the security forces … Journalists in north and south Kashmir are facing the maximum brunt. They usually email their stories as they live in faraway places. In absence of internet, you can’t expect them to travel to Srinagar every day to file their stories. This is directly impacting the newspapers which are completely now dependent on Delhi-based agencies like IANS and PTI for news stories.
CPJ’s WhatsApp, text messages, and email seeking comment from police in Srinagar, the Home Ministry and the Information and Broadcast Ministry were not immediately returned.
Read CPJ’s safety notes on covering civil disorder and digital security.
Editor’s note: The ninth paragraph has been changed to correct the title of one of the newspapers being circulated.