Kashmiri police concerned over ban on live media coverage of gunfire | News on press freedom

Srinagar, Kashmir under Indian administration – Journalists and media organizations in Indian-administered Kashmir express concern over a new police directive banning journalists from approaching battle sites and covering “law and order” situations, saying that it endangers ‘national security’ ”.

In the directive released Tuesday evening, the disputed region’s police chief, Inspector General Vijay Kumar, called on media staff to “stay away from dating sites” and “not to cover any live coverage. meeting ”with armed rebels, who for decades have been fighting for an independent state of Kashmir or for its merger with neighboring Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Police in the area said “freedom of speech and expression is subject to reasonable restrictions” and called on the media not to “interfere with the professional and bona fide duty” of the police and citizens. security forces on “dating” sites – a euphemism for alleged extrajudicial killings by the police.

“No operational content should be broadcast that is likely to incite violence or contains anything against the maintenance of [law and order] or that promotes anti-national sentiment, ”the directive said.

Indian soldier signals media staff to back down as police and army soldiers launch operation in Awantipora area, south of Srinagar [File: Dar Yasin/AP]

The order was criticized by a dozen groups of Kashmiri journalists. “If this is part of official police policy, it appears to be a tactic to compel journalists not to report facts on the ground,” the groups said in a joint statement.

“It also appears to be part of a series of measures taken by the authorities to suppress press freedom in the region. Summoning journalists to police stations, filing FIRs and seeking informal explanations of their work have intensified over the past two years, ”he added.

According to the statement, Kashmiri journalists “have worked under tremendous pressure over the past decades and despite threats to life, liberty and property, they have upheld the principles of journalism and reporting,” adding that “Such attacks on press freedom and journalism are extremely painful. “.

Last week, a photojournalist was beaten up by a policeman while covering a shooting in southern Kashmir; a video of the incident was circulated widely on social media, triggering criticism over the treatment of journalists by Indian authorities.

“State of repression”

Farooq Javed Khan, president of the Kashmir Press Photographers Association, a local union of photojournalists in the region, told Al Jazeera that the new guidelines will impact their work.

“We don’t get close to the shootings, we always cooperate with the authorities. Our cameras show reality, they capture what they see, we don’t create anything ourselves, ”he said. “We shoot and leave the scene, that’s all we do.”

Indian policeman points gun at protesters during funeral of civilian who local media say was hit by paramilitary vehicle during protest in Srinagar [File: Danish Ismail/Reuters]

After India stripped its only Muslim-majority region of special constitutional status in August 2019, a crippling security lockdown and communication blackout were imposed for months, preventing local journalists from doing their jobs.

To further muzzle the press, which already operates in one of the most militarized regions of the world, the Indian government last year introduced a new media policy that allows it to determine what is “fake news” and “anti- national”.

Over the past two years, many Kashmiri journalists have been summoned and reserved by the police. At least 19 journalists have been killed in the Kashmir conflict since an armed rebellion against the Indian regime began in the 1990s.

In March 2020, the International Press Institute declared that journalism in Indian-administered Kashmir was under “a state of dramatic repression.”

“The state is using a mixture of harassment, intimidation, surveillance and online information control to silence critical voices and force journalists to resort to self-censorship,” the watchdog said. media.

Laxmi Murthy, co-founder of Free Speech Collective, an organization that advocates freedom of speech, told Al Jazeera that “the recent restrictions, coming as they do in the context of a lack of transparency and a lack of access to official sources for verification prevent accurate reporting ”.

“Journalists in Kashmir do the important job of verifying events on the ground and informing the public. The free flow of verified information is crucial for a functioning democracy and the latest advice does not bode well for genuine journalism in the public interest. “

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