Scores of journalists on Monday staged a sit-in outside the Directorate of Information and Public Relations here as a mark of protest against the ban on publication of a local English daily, Kashmir Reader.
The journalists assembled at the Press Enclave and held a peaceful sit-in. Later, they took out a rally from Press Enclave to Directorate of Information. Carrying placards which read 'Don't stifle free voice', 'withdraw ban order', they reached the main gate of the Directorate, but could not enter inside as its gate was locked. They later staged a sit-in outside the Directorate.
The journalists pasted placards that read "Is Kashmir under martial law?", "Journalism is no threat to society", on the Directorate's main gate.
Editor of Kashmir Reader, Mir Hilal, said: "Journalist community condemned ban on our newspaper because they are aware they could also face a similar action. They have realized that the state is making Kashmir Reader as a warning shot, asking them to fall in line. It is like frightening the press into submission."
Marouf Ahmed, senior correspondent at Kashmir Reader, termed the order as an "attempt to muzzle the newspaper which has been reporting the Kashmir uprising like any other daily."
"We fail to understand how a newspaper that has been reporting events with journalistic sincerity incite violence?" he asked.
"We reported what happened on ground. We didn't write anything that was factually incorrect. We reported like any other newspaper did," said Moazzam Muhammad, another correspondent of Kashmir Reader.
Faisul Yaseen, senior correspondent at daily Rising Kashmir, said the "government must have served prior notice to the media organization."
"The democratic norms have been shaken. They could have issued a prior show cause notice to the newspaper before banning its publication. By banning media houses or imprisoning human rights activists, the government is also threatening others," he said.
"The move is arbitrary. The ban on the publication must be revoked immediately," said Owais Gul, who works with local news gathering agency, KNS.
Pertinently, District Magistrate Srinagar on Sunday directed the Printer, Publisher and Owner of Kashmir Reader to abstain from printing and publishing it till further orders "so that disturbance of public tranquility is prevented."
Kashmir Editors' Guild on Monday strongly condemned banning of daily Kashmir Reader by the government.
In a meeting held here, the Guild described the ban, imposed without any prior notice to the Printer, Publisher and Owner of Kashmir Reader, as against the "basic spirit of democracy as well as the freedom of press."
The government order, banning the newspaper, is vague and unclear about the charges for which such a harsh step has been taken, the Guild said, impressing upon the government to revoke the ban forthwith "failing which the Valley-based newspapers would be forced to take direct action."
The Guild also appealed to the Press Council of India to take a note of "how the space for Kashmir-based newspapers is being choked by the authorities."
Hurriyat Conference (G) chairman Syed Ali Geelani condemned the "autocratic and undemocratic decision" of the government to ban the publication of Kashmir Reader.
"It is one of the darkest chapters in the history of the press in Jammu & Kashmir," he said in a statement. "The Indian State and its quislings in Jammu & Kashmir want to enforce the peace of dead through violence and repression and anyone raising voice against it, reporting or writing against it, is labeled as a threat. It is simply state terrorism to call those who resist as violent or a threat to peace or terrorists."
"This shameful and barbaric act must be opposed and I express my unflinching solidarity with Kashmir Reader and also hope the press in Jammu and Kashmir opposes this dark deed and expresses fearless and steadfast support with Kashmir Reader, while remaining true to the journalistic task of opposing tyranny and standing in defense of the truth," he added.
Hurriyat Conference (M) also condemned the "dictatorial decision" of the government of banning the newspaper "on ridiculous pretext of inciting violence and disturbing peace."
A spokesman said "even reporting facts has now become a threat for the state which wants to put an iron curtain on its repression and hence is resorting to worst form of censorship and gagging."
"The people of Kashmir are proud of their journalists and writers who despite such odds are doing their job sincerely and ethically," the spokesperson said.
Chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Muhammad Yasin Malik on Monday said banning Kashmir Reader' "is yet another example of suppression unleashed by PDP-led coalition in Jammu and Kashmir."
"Anti-Kashmiri and anti-Muslim sadist mindset of Indian rulers and their Kashmiri agents led by PDP-BJP coalition is yet to satisfy despite killing of more than 90 innocents, injuring of more than 20000 men, women, children and youth majority of whom happen to be students, (despite) snatching of eyesight of more than 1000 people, vandalizing private properties worth crores of rupees by forces, arresting of more than 10000 people including hundreds of kids and students, besides using PSA-like laws to cage political opponents, banning every kind of modern means like internet, mobile and now even daily papers like daily Kashmir Reader," Malik said in a statement.
"This is why new oppressive methods to harm people are being invented and deployed by Indian forces in Jammu Kashmir."
Chairman of National Front Nayeem Ahmad Khan also condemned the ban on the daily, saying "media in Kashmir is facing gag at the hands of the so-called government because of its objectivity and truthfulness."
Expressing solidarity with the management of daily Kashmir Reader, Khan said: "Don't feel lonely, the nation is with you because you are among the torchbearers of truth."
The High Court Bar Association too condemned what it said "the gagging of local press for reporting the truth and not toeing the government line."
"This is an attack on the freedom of press and people's right to information and right of free speech. Such an illegal action will be challenged in the court of law and Bar Association will provide all required legal aid and assistance to such journalists facing harassment and victimization," the HCBA said in a statement.
Chairman of Democratic Liberation Front (DLP), Hashim Qureshi, condemned the ban on the newspaper.
In a statement to KNS, Qureshi said "the government should not have ordered ban on the publication of Kashmir Reader. I appeal to the authorities to lift the ban," he said.
Terming the ban on publication of Kashmir Reader "as worst form of political vendetta", Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA) Chairman Muhammad Yasin Khan said "the government is crossing all limits of oppression to muzzle the people of Kashmir."
"The government plan is now clear that it doesn't want the just voice of the people of Kashmir be conveyed to the outside world. The PDP-BJP alliance seems to believing in journalism of appeasement," Khan, who also heads the Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation, said.
"Modern history doesn't find any evidence where a newspaper has been banned. It seems to be another first in the kitty of PDP-led government which has pushed Kashmir to worst-ever humanitarian crises," he said.
AIP President and MLA Langate Er Rasheed also condemned the ban on Kashmir Reader. "On the one hand some so-called national TV channels have been given a free hand to defame and hurt the sentiments of Kashmiris, but on the other any credible voice in J&K is being curbed with draconian laws," he said.
"Like other rulers, Chief Minister has been making frequent sermons in and outside the J&K Assembly to make fourth pillar of democracy credible and strong, but in practice is following the footprints of Omar Abdullah, who buried local TV channels in 2010. While government is providing all facilities to media industry in Jammu, it has been cruel and brutal towards Kashmir-based print and electronic media. However, these dirty tricks will yield nothing except bringing bad name to the government and truth will prevail in the long run under all circumstances."
Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS) condemned what it said "the government diktat to printing presses to stop printing and publication of Kashmir Reader."
"The order has been passed without giving any credible evidence of the allegations. The government is actually gagging the voice of the people," a KCSDS spokesperson said in statement.
"The paper to our knowledge put before public well-researched and in-depth analysis and verified each and every detail of the violations of human rights and the protest demonstrations that were held in the past 86 days in the length and breadth of the state. It truthfully and faithfully covered all the happenings in a professional manner. It has never published any such material that could disturb peace," it said.
"The cruel irony is that what peace and tranquility is there in Kashmir that it could disturb! The government having miserably failed to respond to the public uprising through civilized and democratic methods is squeezing every space and every institution and inflicting all kinds of cruelties on public to impose the peace of graveyard," the spokesperson said, demanding immediate restoration of the publication of the newspaper.
Jama'at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir condemned the ban on Kashmir Reader, terming it as "undemocratic and atrocious"
"It is extremely unfortunate that on one side media across the globe is treated as 'fourth pillar' of democracy but within the peripheries of Jammu and Kashmir the rights of media are being muzzled and trampled in every respect and speaking on behalf of oppressed and hapless Kashmiris, media is particularly on target," a Jamaat spokesperson said in a statement.
Praising the role of local media, the Jama'at-e-Islami said "when Indian media outlets were busy in defaming ongoing peaceful movement in the attire of "terrorism", it was local media men who worked tirelessly and without caring for their own lives put forth the truth and reality before the world."
JKLF (R) Chief patron Barrister Abdul Majid Trambu condemned the ban on Kashmir Reader saying "it depicts the frustration of PDP led regime."
"By snapping internet, gagging media and laying curbs on media men they actually want to conceal factual position of catastrophe people facing in Kashmir. Banning of publication of newspapers on flimsy grounds is direct war on fourth pillar of democracy. It is violation of the rights of the people seeking to get the factual news," he added.