Several Kashmiri journalists were barred from covering the main R-Day function here, triggering a boycott of the program by media persons and a protest march by several journalists' associations.
According to the journalists, who were either not issued passes for covering the event or were stopped from entering the SK Stadium, the main venue for the function, the police told them they had "adverse reports" against them.
This is for the first time that scribes, some of whom have been in the field for more than two decades, were barred from discharging their professional duties.
Senior journalist and Greater Kashmir photo editor Habib Naqash, who wasn't allowed to cover the function, said he has for the first time come across such a "bizarre incident" in his career spanning more than three decades.
He said about a dozen journalists, including some senior scribes, hadn't been issued passes for the function. "And some journalists were not allowed to enter the stadium to cover the event despite having official passes," he said.
The state information department had issued the passes to the journalists for covering the event. But, according to another senior journalist who too was stopped from covering the event, police had compiled a fresh list in which the names of some journalists had been dropped.
The curbs on journalists occurred at a time when the media has been reporting about cases of assault on journalists by forces while covering events in Kashmir.
Earlier this week, four photojournalists were injured after the forces targeted them with pellets when they had gone to cover a gunfight between militants and security forces in Shopian.
"We were surprised to find that despite having security passes issued, the security men who had a list of journalists with them, barred me from entering the stadium saying 'you have adverse verification report'. I am in this field for past 28 years and this has happened with me for the first time," said Touseef Mustafa, senior photojournalist with Agence France Presse (AFP).
Later, journalists working with different media houses took out a protest rally from Kashmir Press Club (KPC) to GhantaGhar (Clock Tower) to protests against the "highhandedness" of the police.
"It is unfortunate that journalists were stopped from performing their professional duty. Some of the journalists who were not allowed to cover the function have been working in the field for the past 40 years. A separate list had been prepared by police to bar the journalist from covering the function," said President KPC Shuja-ul-Haq, who was part of the protest march.
"We register our protest against it. Let the government and police tell us why journalists were stopped," he said and added that they will be submitting a memorandum to divisional commissioner Kashmir.
He said journalists were frequently targeted while discharging their duties in Kashmir. "We are being targeted with pellets and our vehicles are broken, this shouldn't happen," he said.
KEG, KWJA, KJA condem
Condemning the action of security grid for not allowing senior journalists to cover the event, Kashmir Editors Guild (KEG) said senior journalists were stopped at main gate of the venue and were not allowed to move inside despite having valid security passes provided to them by the authorities.
"The action by the security men on the ground suggests that the security establishment wishes to frighten the media by not allowing them to carry out their professional duties. Today's incident provides a grim reminder yet again about the fact that how vulnerable the media is in an area that is riddled with conflict and lawlessness. The stopping of journalists from carrying out their duties is becoming a norm these days as the journos were also stopped from covering an event on Thursday in Baramulla," said the KEG.
Calling for strong action against those officials who were involved in the act of barring the journalists from discharging their duty the KEG said the way things were going ahead it was in no way going to help in creating a free and independent institution of media in the state.
The Guild demanded that the state government should take stringent action against the police officers who "sought to muzzle the press" and take steps to create a situation where media can function freely and discharge its duty to the citizens by providing information on the happenings in the state. It demanded the details of the "so called adverse reports" that the police claims it has collected against the senior scribes.
In a statement, Kashmir Working Journalists Association (KWJA), while condemning the "repeated assault" on journalists asked the Governor's administration to come clean on its "diktat to blacklist" some of the reputed journalists from covering the event.
"KWJA believes that these are not isolated incidents of harassment against journalists but there is a pattern to it. In the past week, journalists were barred from covering professional duty in Baramulla and they were targeted with pellets in Shopian. This situation has become alarming and life threatening for journalists," said the statement.
"Today's incident of blacklisting some of the internationally reputed journalists indicates that the institutions of the state are out to attack freedom of speech and expression in Kashmir with impunity. If these are isolated incidents, as claimed by some officials, then the government should identify the individuals involved in targeting journalists and take legal action against them."
Kashmir Journalists Association (KJA) too condemned the government's "repressive act" of barring journalists from covering the event. "There is no justification whatsoever in stopping journalists from doing their legitimate duties. Today's incident underlines the fragility of press freedom in Jammu and Kashmir and how blatantly the government institutions like police misuse their powers to muzzle the press," the Association said.
It demanded strict action against police officers responsible for stopping journalists from covering the event and those responsible for harassing and attacking journalists in the past. "Else it will be considered as a deliberate policy by the authorities to ensure restrictions/clampdown on the press in the Valley," it said.