Srinagar: Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti Monday shot a letter to top media bodies of the country - Press Council of India (PCI) and Editors Guild of India (EGI), saying journalists in Kashmir were being “intimidated, snooped and harassed”.
In her letter addressed to PCI Secretary, Mufti said J&K Police conducted raids at the homes of several journalists in Kashmir earlier this month. “Personal items like electronic gadgets including phones and laptops were seized along with ATM cards and passports of their spouses. This comes close on the heels of the harrowing experiences that the journalist community in J&K has been subjected to post abrogation of Article 370 by the Government of India,” Mufti’s letter read.
It said that in a democratic set up, a free and independent press was crucial for government institutions to function in a transparent manner with due accountability. “We have witnessed the manner in which fundamental rights like freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Indian constitution have increasingly come under attack,” she wrote.
Saying there was harassment of journalist fraternity in Kashmir, Mufti in the letter said that “unwarranted harassment of journalists has become a norm and this policy has been implemented by raiding their homes, summoning and interrogating them on frivolous grounds like innocuous tweets, conducting background checks of journalists and their family members by CID, withdrawal of benefits including accommodation of senior journalists, seizure of mobile phones, laptops, confiscating passports, and ATM”.
The letter sheds light on the fact that 23 journalists had been put on the Exit Control List (ECL). “Even students who bag scholarships in prestigious colleges and top universities of the world are not allowed to go and study there. Recently, a student was de-boarded from a plane, arrested and subsequently released,” the letter read. It said that a sizable number of journalists were either threatened or charged with sections under UAPA or sedition law simply because their reportage on J&K did not cater to the public relation stunts of the ruling dispensation. “Reporting truth to power is being criminalised with every passing day,” Mufti wrote.
She said that the journalists working and reporting in J&K were amongst “the bravest in the world, especially at a time when a large section of the Indian media had become a propaganda extension of the Centre”.
“The hostile environment that they operate in with frequent curfews, encounters, hartals and other adverse security situations has not weakened their determination to ensure that truth doesn’t become a casualty. There have always been issues and disagreements between the State and media but never before has the freedom of expression been virtually guillotined in any part of the country as it has been done in J&K for the past three years,” Mufti’s letter reads. It said that the letter had been attached with a copy of a questionnaire that had been served to the journalists who were being currently investigated by the State.
The PDP president has asked the PCI to take suo moto cognisance of these widely-reported incidents, but said that it seemed that no established watchdog forum, including the courts, had taken any interest in the painful circumstances created in J&K, not to speak of any intervention. “It therefore becomes incumbent upon me to urge you to send a fact-finding team to J&K to independently verify these claims and take remedial action,” reads the letter.