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Shrinking space for freedom of press in Jammu and Kashmir: Amnesty

By M M Special Correspondent

New Delhi: International right defenders Amnesty International on Tuesday slammed the Jammu and Kashmir government for trying to gag the voice of media and concerned for deteriorating space for freedom of press. It said”the intimidation, harassment and detention of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir, by the state, threatens basic freedom of expression norms”.

“What we are witnessing in the valley is a new form of censorship where journalists are detained for doing their job. The recent arrest of Kashmir-based journalist Aasif Sultan and the subsequent suspension of the Twitter handle of his employer, ‘Kashmir Narrator’, raises serious concerns about the deteriorating state of press freedom in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Zahoor Wani, Senior Campaigner, Amnesty International India.

Quoting media reports, Amnestay said  Aasif Sultan, who works as an Assistant Editor at ‘Kashmir Narrator’, was picked up from his residence and detained by Jammu and Kashmir police on the night of 27 August 2018. He was formally arrested on 1 September for his alleged involvement in an incident of gunfire between government forces and ‘militants’ in Batamaloo area of Srinagar on 12 August 2018. In its submissions before the court, the police said that through his writings, Aasif would “often give coverage to Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists, especially Burhan Wani, to attract youth towards terrorist organisations, especially Hizbul Mujahideen.” The police has booked Aasif with offences under the Ranbir Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), including relating to conspiracy, harbouring a ‘terrorist’ and ‘support given to a terrorist organisation’.

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Speaking to Amnesty International India, Showkat A Motta, Editor-in-Chief of ‘Kashmir Narrator’, dismissed the allegations made by the police.  “It is harassment by the police and an attack on the rights of a journalist. Aasif is being targeted for his journalistic work. In the July 2018 edition of our monthly, Aasif wrote an article titled ‘The Rise of Burhan’. Police had taken note of the article. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) emailed us a list of questions about the article and asked us to respond within two days. The email also had a list of words that police considered ‘objectionable’,” Showkat said.

Showkat also said that police have been questioning Aasif for his work on conflict related issues. “Aasif is being questioned for not writing about development. While meeting police officials during the past week, I was asked questions about Aasif’s political ideology,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kashmir Narrator’s Twitter account has been blocked. The reason provided on Twitter is, “Account withheld – @KashmirNarrator’s account has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand”.

“The use of a draconian law like the UAPA against media persons is an attempt to stifle journalism in Jammu and Kashmir. The law is often used to arbitrarily detain people who are peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. People, the state considers a threat, are held in detention without charge for up to six months,” said Zahoor Wani.

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