HRW denounces growing repression of journalists in Indian Kashmir

Srinagar, India, Feb 8 (EFE).- Nonprofit Human Rights Watch on Tuesday criticized growing repression by authorities in India-administered Kashmir against local media outlets and journalists after a well-known journalist was arrested on charges of sedition and inciting terrorism.

Fahad Shah, editor of news portal The Kashmir Walla, was arrested on Feb. 4 for publishing what authorities called “anti-national content” on social media after a shootout apart from “glorifying terrorism, spreading fake news & inciting general public,” the HRW said in a statement.

“Fahad Shah’s arrest is only the latest attempt by the Indian government to frighten off the media for doing its job and reporting on abuses,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director at HRW.

“Instead of ensuring justice for security force violations in Kashmir, the government is more interested in silencing those who bring these abuses to light,” she added.

The nonprofit said that the arrest comes amid growing “harassment, threats, and prosecutions of journalists and human rights activists” in Jammu and Kashmir, especially after New Delhi revoked the state’s special autonomous status in August 2019 and split it into two federally governed territories.

Since then, at least 35 journalists in Kashmir have faced “police interrogation, raids, threats, physical assault, or fabricated criminal cases” for their reporting, HRW said.

Kashmir is the only Muslim majority region of India, and has a history of a strong pro-independence sentiment since the British divided it between India and Pakistan in 1947, with Islamabad backing the separatist groups.

“Journalists in Kashmir have always worked under perilous conditions, holding up values of press freedom in the face of dangers to life and liberty,” the Journalist Federation of Kashmir said in a recent statement.

The 35 arrested journalists include another reporter of The Kashmir Walla, Sajad Gul, who was arrested on criminal conspiracy charges in January after reporting about a protest against Indian authorities, and was later charged under the draconian Public Security Act.

Last month authorities also seized control of the Kashmir Press Club building in regional capital Srinagar, and blocked access to it citing alleged disputes between different journalist groups.

Media analyst Raashid Maqbool told EFE that the recent measures reflected a “sense of insecurity” in the government.

“Now apparently everything is banned including mainstream media. Social media was the only platform where some young people were expressing their views but now the government wants to ban it too,” he said.

The arrested social media users include Shawkat Hussain, who was arrested for alleged uploading a video “insulting” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A local police officer told EFE on the condition of anonymity that “anti-national and anti-social elements are being closely monitored and a list of people who have made it a habit to use social media for anti-India propaganda has also been compiled.”

“We are only enforcing law against those who are trying to dent the image of the government and upload anti-national content,” he said. EFE


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