TV and newspapers shut down as part of efforts to control unrest
By David Keohane in Mumbai
Authorities in India-controlled Kashmir have clamped down on the media, shutting newspapers and television stations as they try to control the violence that has flared in the region following the death of a rebel separatist commander last week.
More than 40 people have been killed and more than 1,000 injured since Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old Kashmiri separatist, was killed by security forces on July 8. The region has already been placed under curfew and mobile internet services have been suspended.
In what is being described as an unprecedented move, Kashmiri authorities at the weekend shut down cable television news channels and raided newspapers such as Rising Kashmir, Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Images and Kashmir Times.
Online reports by the affected publications described police arresting employees and seizing tens of thousand of physical copies to prevent papers reaching newsstands.
“Cops … snatched [employees’] cell phones. The employees who tried to resist were beaten up by the policemen,” said the Kashmir Times.
According to Rising Kashmir, editors were told that “in view of apprehensions of serious trouble in Kashmir in [the] next three days strict curfew will be imposed and movement of newspaper staff and distribution of newspapers will not be possible”.
Shujaat Bukhari, editor of Rising Kashmir, described the situation as “unprecedented”. He said that, unlike in previous circumstances, “the government has told us not to publish” rather than simply making it difficult to do so. “They have said that newspapers are part of the problem” this time.
“If you black out newspapers it creates a space for rumour. You’ve already shut mobile services in most part of Kashmir. You don’t have cable TV… In this vacuum how can you think this is going to help?” asked Mr Bukhari.
Siddiq Wahid, former vice-chancellor of Kashmir’s Islamic University, said the move was a new tactic, and potentially potent: “for most of the places, especially rural areas, this means a complete shutdown as they do not have [desktop internet] facility available”.
A Jammu and Kashmir government minister, who declined to be named, told Reuters the crackdown was necessary because “Pakistani channels that are beamed here through cable television network have launched a campaign aimed at fomenting trouble here”.
“Some newspapers were also sensationalising the violence,” he added. “We will take a decision on [their] restoration after July 19.”
More than 44,000 civilians, troops and rebels have died in the conflict that erupted in 1988 as a separatist insurgency made up of Kashmiri youth, armed and trained by Pakistan, claimed for itself the Muslim-majority region.
However, while casualties have fallen sharply over the past six years, the population has remained under a heavy military presence and the eruption of violence in response to Mr Wani’s death reflects the anger simmering under the surface.
“One thing is clear; the current revolt is not a temporary phenomenon,” said Mr Wahid.
Additional reporting by Amy Kazmin in New Delhi