The government's diktat restricting use of social media by its employees came in for severe criticism from both mainstream political parties as well as the resistance camp on Wednesday, with many top leaders calling the move as "dictatorial, despotic and a direct attack on people's freedom of speech and expression."
'GOVERNMENT SUPPRESSING TRUTH'
Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (M) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq called the government order curbing use of social media by its employees as "despotic and aimed at suppressing the aspirations of the people."
"This diktat reflects the government's nervousness and desperation to suppress the truth about Kashmir," he said in a statement, adding that "it's an acceptance by the repressive authorities with regard to what the popular sentiment in Kashmir is, which the government wants to muzzle through its ridiculous gags."
The PDP-led government on Tuesday came up with guidelines, spreading over 16 pages, on use of social media by its employees.
Mirwaiz said that the state employees are an educated lot and "important opinion makers" of the Kashmiri society and "choking their voice by issuing dictatorial gags is yet another form of state repression whose victims this time are the state employees."
"All the successive governments that used to be claimants of being representatives of people have trampled upon all traces of anything that can be called democratic," he said, adding: "All power flows through the barrel of the gun and its accompanying repression in Kashmir. All forms of resistance to this repression stand banned and barred."
Mirwaiz said that whenever repression touches new heights and "the cup of patience spills over and people take to streets, they are greeted by bullets, batons, and deadly pellets."
He said that barring employees, who are a part and parcel of the society, from raising their concerns regarding the prevailing situation and the issues facing the people on social media sites, can't help the government to hide its failures, especially the "reign of terror it has let loose on the people of Kashmir."
He said that irony is that the government order is not just applicable to the employees but also extends to the family members of the employees, which clearly reflects "how low the government can stoop to muzzle and crush the genuine voices in Kashmir."
Mirwaiz termed the government's diktat as repressive and anti-Kashmir, stating that "like all the repressive moves adopted by the successive governments in the past have failed on ground, the fresh move will also meet the same fate as the affiliation of every segment of Kashmiri society towards the freedom movement runs deep."
Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik termed the government order as "dictatorial, resembling the North Korea-type dictatorship."
"It is a direct attack on freedom of speech. The regime ruling in J&K led by Mehbooba Mufti is setting new records of authoritarianism in the name of democracy," Malik said in a statement, adding: "The fraud politicians who once used to raise hue and cry over human rights violations and propagated 'healing touch' and 'battle of ideas' by their undemocratic dictates have turned Kashmir into a military dictatorship where every voice of dissent is being suppressed by military might."
Criticising the government for banning employees from raising their voice against human rights violations and other human issues, Malik said that the present regime has banned every peaceful political activity, restricted every peaceful protest and choked even the tiniest of political spaces in J&K.
"Thousands of young and old, men and women and even minors have been jailed for raising their voice. Hundreds of students are being penalised for raising voice against killings, blinding and maiming," he said. "Seven-year-old minor to an 80-year-old man are languishing in jails under the black law PSA and to prolong their incarceration, repeated PSAs are being slapped on them. This regime has been even using education and examination of students as a political stunt to undermine the real aspirations of the people of J&K."
The fresh ban on use of social media has been imposed on government employees, denying them the universally-recognised right to freedom of speech, he said.
"Let Mehbooba and her regime and their masters in New Delhi use every tactic to defeat Kashmiri resistance and use every kind of suppression to trample the voices of Kashmiris, but we (still) want to tell them that all their fascism will fail in doing so and Kashmiris, despite all these Hitler-like dictates, will continue their freedom struggle," he said.
NC SLAMS GOVERNMENT
Opposition National Conference slammed the ruling PDP-BJP government for curbing use of social media by its employees.
In a statement, a National Conference spokesperson cautioned the government against what it called "portraying lakhs of hardworking government employees of the state as terrorists and anti-social elements to cover its own failure on both the governance and the political fronts."
"The social media diktat issued by the government is an obnoxious, tyrannical and unacceptable insult to the employees and depicts the regressive mindset of the Mehbooba Mufti government," NC's state spokesman Junaid Azim Matu said in the statement.
"The diktat, in the form of an amendment to the J&K government employees conduct rules 1971, aims to defame and vilify lakhs of government employees as either terrorists or anti-social elements who are apparently unable to differentiate between right and wrong in conducting themselves on a day-to-day basis."
He said that by asking the government employees to "not endorse the posts or tweets or blogs of any political figure" even from their personal accounts, the government has yet again "exhibited a chronic sense of insecurity and intolerance to criticism and contrarian views."
"It's quite possible that the government might issue another diktat asking government employees to endorse every post and tweet of Mehbooba Mufti on social media given the damning invective of indifference people have shown towards her," he said.
Rather than defaming lakhs of government employees, the National Conference said that PDP should introspect and acknowledge its role in "eroding the neutrality of institutions at the policy level." He lauded the services rendered by government employees, especially in far-flung areas and said that National Conference was aghast at the "contempt shown towards them by the state government."
'WITHDRAW THE ORDER'
J&K Congress also asked the government to withdraw the notification curbing use of social media by its employees and described the "new anti-people directive" as "direct attack on freedom of expression and speech."
In a statement, a J&K Congress spokesman criticised the government for barring employees from using social media which has become a part of life all over the world.
"This gag is indicative of the dictatorial mindset of the PDP-BJP coalition. On the one hand, the government is claiming that situation has improved considerably in the Valley and on the other, people are not being allowed to express their views."
He said that the gag order is "anti-people, undemocratic and unethical" and asked the government to withdraw it "in the larger interest of democracy."
'REVOKE THE ORDER'
Terming J&K government's social media gag order for its employees as against the basic principles of freedom of expression, Peoples Democratic Front president and MLA Khansahib Hakim Muhammad Yasin asked the state authorities to revoke it.
"In a democracy, every citizen has certain basic rights that the state cannot take away from them. Everyone has the right to express his ideas and to protest government's actions. However, citizens, including employees, have an obligation to exercise these rights peacefully, with respect for the law and for the rights of others," he said.
CPI (M) state Secretary and MLA Kulgam Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami said that the government order imposing extensive restrictions on use of social media by its employees "exposes the dictatorial and regressive mindset of the coalition government."
"At a time when the government is claiming remarkable success in bringing the state back on the tracks of normalcy, restricting the use of social media belies its tall claims. It also has the negative potential to further alienate a substantial proportion of the masses," he said.
"Going by its own claim of improvement in the situation, the government should have initiated the process of withdrawing draconian laws like AFSPA and PSA. Unfortunately it has chosen to curtail the freedom of expression of its nearly half a million employees."
He said that the measure is "highly undemocratic and arbitrary. In a democracy, the employees need no guidelines as to what and how they want to express themselves even on social networking sites."
"The government order under reference has many vague and inexplicable terms like 'prejudicial to the government'," he said.
Rejecting social media gag on government employees, Awami Itehad Party chairman and MLA Langate Er Abdur Rashid said that the move is an "attack on fundamental rights of speech and expression."
Addressing various public meetings in Handwara, Rashid, according to a statement, said that "making government employees accountable is always welcome but nobody can deny the fact that government employees are also part of the society."
"They can never shut their eyes from the state oppression, repression and violation of other fundamental rights of the people of the state. It is not the first time that the government is playing dirty tricks and getting exposed for its own failures as only last year many government employees were terminated from their services and many stand lodged in jails just for calling spade a spade," he said. "All this indicates that the government in J&K and New Delhi is feeling insecure and always remains under the apprehension that not only the common masses but the tools of its own state apparatus may also expose it over various vital issues and in fact do reject the tall claims made by the government from time to time."
EJAC DEMANDS WITHDRAWAL OF SRO 525
President, employees joint action committee (EJAC) Abdul Qayoom Wani on Wednesday termed the government order (SRO 525) that curbs use of social media by employees as a "direct attack on right to freedom of speech and expression."
In a statement, Wani said: "Right to freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right of every citizen, irrespective of cast, creed, colour, region and religion but by issuing this SRO, the government of J&K has deprived employees of their fundamental rights which is unjustified and unacceptable to the employees."
EJAC demands immediate withdrawal of the SRO "otherwise we will fight against this draconian law at organisational level as well as on the legal front," he said.
The EJAC leaders will knock the doors of court for revocation of this anti-employee SRO, Wani said.