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Concerns as Kashmir police ban live media coverage of Gun battles

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir Journalists and media organisations in Indian-administered Kashmir say they are concerned over a new directive issued by the police prohibiting reporters from approaching the sites of gun-battles and covering “law and order” situations, saying it puts the “national security in jeopardy”. In the directive issued late on Tuesday, the disputed region’s police chief, Inspector General Vijay Kumar, asked media personnel “not to come closer to encounter sites” and “not carry live coverage of any encounter” with armed rebels, who for decades have been fighting for either an independent Kashmir state or its merger with neighbouring Muslim-majority Pakistan. The region’s police said “freedom of speech and expression is subject to reasonable restrictions” and asked the media not to “interfere in professional and bonafide duty” of police and security forces at the sites of “encounter”, as gunfights with rebels are called. “No operational content should be carried which is likely to incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of [law and order] or which promotes anti-national sentiment,” said the directive.

The order has been criticised by a dozen Kashmiri journalist groups. “If this is a part of the official policy of police then it appears to be a tactic to coerce journalists into not reporting facts on the ground,” the groups said in a joint statement. “It also seems to be a part of the string of measures taken by the authorities to suppress freedom of press in the region. Summoning journalists to police stations, filing FIRs and seeking informal explanations for their work has intensified in the past two years,” it added. The statement said Kashmiri journalists “have worked under tremendous pressure for the past several decades and despite facing threats to life, liberty and property, they upheld the principles of journalism and reporting”, adding that “such attacks on press freedom and journalism is highly distressful”. After India stripped its only Muslim-majority region of its special constitutional status in August 2019, a crippling security lockdown and communications blackout was imposed for months, preventing local journalists from doing their jobs.

To further muzzle the press, which already operates in one of the world’s most militarised regions, the Indian government last year introduced a new media policy that allows it to determine what is “fake news” and “anti-national” content. In the last two years, many Kashmiri journalists have been Summoned and book by the police. At least 19 journalists have been killed in the Kashmir conflict since an armed rebellion against Indian rule began in the 1990s. In March 2020, the International Press Institute said journalism in Indian-administered Kashmir is under “a dramatic state of repression”. “The state is using a mix of harassment, intimidation, surveillance and online information control to silence critical voices and force journalists to resort to self-censorship,” said the media watchdog.

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