Md Jubair: In the latest series of attacks on free speech, police in Indian-occupied Kashmir have begun raiding journalists’ houses over online threats accusing them of collaborating with Indian-security agencies and perpetuating “fake narratives.” Citing Kashmir’s notorious anti-terror law, police went on to detain several journalists, seizing their possessions, including laptops, cameras and cell phones to prevent any contact with the media.
The threats were sent out to about 12 journalists, including Srinagar-based writer Gauhar Geelani who has been targeted by the Indian administration many times before. The police have blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba for the incident who is one of the largest militant groups in the area. Curiously, the raids also targeted lawyers who have represented defendants in anti-militancy cases. In Kashmir, journalists have long suffered under the government’s systematic crackdown on freedom of speech-arbitrary detentions and arrests have become far too common, and intimidation and harassment run unchecked; forming a sinister pattern that seeks to destroy all traces of dissidence in the area.
The government also has a history of blocking internet services to prevent media coverage of the conflict. After Kashmir’s autonomous status was repealed by the Modi government in 2019, incidences of repression have steadily increased. In 2020, a new policy allowed government officials to censor content that was deemed “unethical or anti-national”. In 2021, government employees were asked to hand over their social media accounts to the local administration so they could be surveilled more thoroughly. Earlier this year, censorship reached new heights when a group of pro-government journalists and police officers took over the Kashmir Press Club, an independent anti-government media body that has long sought to restore free speech in the area. A large number of police and paramilitary personnel were also deployed. At every turn, journalists are prevented from doing their jobs and now the state appears to be sponsoring military operations to restrict their autonomy. Even the law isn’t on their side anymore-Kashmir’s Public Safety Act allows authorities to detain people who are accused of threatening “national security”.
As of April, this year, it is now illegal for Kashmiri journalists to state that the area is under military occupation. The government continues to grow more emboldened in its efforts to curtail free speech; they are intent on eroding every remaining link Kashmiris have to the outside world and might as well criminalize journalism as a whole.