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Mehbooba Mufti urges Press Council to send a fact-finding team to J&K

Journalists are facing harassment and intimidation by administration, says Mufti


Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti on Monday urged the Press Council of India and the Editors Guild of India to send a fact-finding team to Kashmir to probe alleged harassment and intimidation of journalists by the administration.   

Mufti in a letter to the PCI secretary said, “You may be aware that raids were conducted by police at homes of several journalists in Kashmir earlier this month”.

“Personal items such as electronic gadgets including phones and laptops were illegally seized along with ATM cards and passports of their spouses,’’ the letter said. It said the raids came close on the heels of the harrowing experiences that the journalist community in Jammu and Kashmir were subject to post the abrogation of Article 370 by the government. 

“In a democratic set up, a free and independent press is crucial and essential for government institutions to function in a transparent manner with due accountability towards its citizens,’’ it said.  “We have witnessed the manner in which fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Indian Constitution have increasingly come under attack especially in the last two years by a hostile and insecure dispensation.” 

The letter said the people at large and media especially in J&K have been at the receiving end of this policy. 

It said 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 such as innocuous tweets, conducting background checks of journalists and their family members by CID, withdrawal of benefits including accommodation of some senior journalists, seizure of mobile phones, laptops, confiscating passports, ATM cards etc.

“Reportedly 23 journalists have been put on ECL ( Exit control list). Even students who bag scholarships in prestigious colleges in top universities of the world are not allowed to go and study there,’’ it said. “Recently a student was deboarded from a plane, arrested and subsequently released.” 

The former chief minister alleged a sizable number of journalists are either threatened or charged with sections under UAPA or sedition law, simply because their reportage on J&K does not cater to the “PR stunts of the ruling dispensation”. She said reporting truth to power is being criminalised with every passing day. 

“I strongly believe that the journalists working and reporting in J&K are amongst the bravest in the world especially at a time when a large section of the Indian media has become a propaganda extension of the Central government,’’ she said. 

She said 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. 

She said 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. 

“I am enclosing herewith a copy of a questionnaire that has been served to the journalists who are being currently investigated by the state,’’ she said. “You will note that apart from asking very irrelevant and personal questions it is based on the assumption that their personal ties and loyalties lie with anti-national networks.” 

She said unfortunately this is a diabolical method to perpetuate the communal mindset throughout the country in order to gain political mileage and relevance by  demeaning and marginalising  an entire community. 

“One had hoped that the Press Council of India would take a suo moto note of these widely reported incidents but it seems that no established watchdog forum, including the courts, has taken any interest in the painful circumstances created in J&K, not to speak of any interventions,’’she said. “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.” 

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