The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) has condemned the Union Government’s censorship of The Kashmir Walla, an independent online news magazine, after the government restricted access to its website and social media accounts without prior notice or official order.
In a statement issued yesterday, The Kashmir Walla describes the move as an instance of “opaque censorship” and yet another severe blow to the freedom of the press in Jammu and Kashmir.
The magazine’s staff were notified by their service provider that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had blocked access to the website within India, invoking the Information Technology Act of 2000. Their Facebook page, boasting nearly half a million followers, was taken down, and access to their Twitter account was “restricted”, citing what was described as a “legal demand.” As per the statement issued by the Kashmir Walla, all this was done while the staff were in the process of vacating their office space in Srinagar, having been served an eviction notice by the property owner.
NWMI has, in its statement, pointed out that this blocking and censorship of the magazine’s website comes at a time when Fahad Shah, the founder-editor-in-chief of The Kashmir Walla, has been incarcerated for 18 months. Shah is currently contesting various charges levelled against him, including the alleged promotion of terrorism, dissemination of false information, and incitement to violence. He has faced imprisonment on five separate occasions within four months, with three instances involving First Information Reports under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and one involving the application of the Public Safety Act.
A trainee reporter with the magazine, Sajad Gul, is also detained under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) and is currently lodged in a prison in Uttar Pradesh. Gul was arrested on January 6, 2022, after he shared a video in which a family expressed allegedly “anti-India” sentiments following the death of their family member in an exchange of fire with security forces in Srinagar.
The staff of The Kashmir Walla say that they are still in the process of comprehending the implications of this latest development. Their statement is an eloquent comment on the plight of independent media in Kashmir: “There isn’t a lot left for us to say anymore. Since 2011, The Kashmir Walla has strived to remain an independent, credible, and courageous voice of the region in the face of unimaginable pressure from the authorities while we watched ourselves being ripped apart, bit by bit.”
The deliberate targeting of The Kashmir Walla, through the arrest of its editors and contributors and now the blocking of its website and social media accounts, indicates the extent to which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union government can go to muzzle the press in Kashmir.
By blocking this crucial news magazine, the government seeks to silence a critical voice and denies readers in India access to its rich repository of stories showcasing everyday life in conflict-ridden Kashmir. Regrettably, the authorities appear to have prevailed upon house-owners to terminate the magazine’s office lease. An independent media requires a support system to flourish, and intimidation by the authorities contributes to eroding this support structure of essential services.
NWMI has also demanded that authorities desist from exerting pressure on ordinary citizens such as house owners, to prevent them renting space to The Kashmir Walla.
Further, NWMI has also demanded that the authorities stop this backdoor censorship of independent media. The Kashmir Walla must be allowed to be published freely on the internet, and access to its website and its social media platforms must be restored.