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For Immediate Release
April 22, 1996

Vikram Parekh
(212)465-1004, x109

Press Freedom Advocates Denounce New Curbs on Kashmiri Press

CPJ Questions Fairness of Elections Amid Censorship by Government and Separatists

New York--The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today denounced moves by the Indian government and militant separatists to censor Kashmir's press, in the run-up to parliamentary elections in the war-torn state. The moves prompted Srinagar editors Friday to suspend publication of their newspapers indefinitely.

"Elections in Kashmir will only be free and fair if the local press is free to report on them," said Vikram Parekh, CPJ's program coordinator for Asia, who visited Kashmir last year. "The government's introduction of a press gag and the threats issued by the leading separatist group make such an outcome impossible," he added.

In a letter dated April 17, Kashmir's federally-appointed state government threatened to press criminal charges against local newspaper editors who published statements by separatist leaders, material deemed "prejudicial to the unity and integrity of the State and the country," or articles that "directly or indirectly express lack of faith" in the state and federal constitutions. The directive also barred "inflammatory matter likely to foment ... regional tension" and, in a vaguely-worded provision, appeared to ban reports that would deter government employees from participating in the election process.

Most of Kashmir's leading newspapers allocate as much as a quarter of their copy to press releases from separatist groups, material that editors say they publish under militant pressure. Failure to publish such statements has frequently resulted in the temporary closure of Kashmiri newspapers and printing presses by militant groups. But last week's directive appeared to go much further than simply banning the publication of separatist press releases.

"The directive potentially encompasses any questioning of the electoral process in Kashmir, and it completely silences debate over the issue of sovereignty," Parekh said.

The pro-Pakistan Hizb-ul-Mujahideen--Kashmir's most powerful separatist group--responded to the directive on Friday, warning Kashmiri editors that they would be "dealt with severely" if they published government statements or advertisements. Militant groups unanimously oppose holding state or federal elections in Kashmir, contending that a plebiscite must first be held to determine sovereignty over the disputed state. Kashmiris are scheduled to vote for seats in the lower house of parliament, known as the Lok Sabha, in May.

The Kashmiri press has recently come under increasing pressure from armed separatists and Indian-backed militias, with two journalists killed since September in unresolved cases, and another sustaining severe injuries when he was abducted and shot last December. Earlier attacks on the Kashmiri press are documented in detail in CPJ's 1995 report, On a Razor's Edge: Local Journalists Targeted by Warring Parties in Kashmir. Based in New York, CPJ is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of journalists dedicated to upholding press freedom worldwide.

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