The Jammu & Kashmir Reading Room (KRR), a collective of lawyers, doctors, academicians, researchers, activists and journalists – based across the world – came together in 2014 to try and sensitize people on the political, legal and everyday struggles of people in Jammu & Kashmir. As the former state marks one year since it was bifurcated and its special status enshrined under Article 370 was withdrawn on August 5, the KRR, has raised its voice against the harassment of journalists and lawyers in the Union Territory (UT).
As expected by most living there, the Jammu and Kashmir UT, has been now clamped under a strict curfew, on the eve of the one year mark, just as it was a year ago. In the 365 days that have since passed, scores of journalists, lawyers, activists, politicians have been regularly summoned for questioning at police stations, some have been booked under anti terror laws, some allege they may be under surveillance and yet others continue to be jailed or under house arrest, even now.
While the information blackout, that was near complete in the early days of the Kashmir lockdown, had an impact on the working journalists and lawyers, making their job an even more uphill task than before, the continued intimidation in multiple forms they say has added to the problem. The non-availability of 4G internet has made it difficult for journalists to file their reports, and for lawyers to argue matters through video conferences.
According to the members of the Reading Room, “It is undeniable that the Indian Government’s attitude towards Kashmiri media, which maintains its own editorial independence, has resulted in journalism suffering significant strain.” It states that in recent weeks, this alleged “interference” is in the form of policies being launched in the UT, such as the new media policy. They state that there is also an attempt “to limit the financial sustainability of media by placing arbitrary restraints on advertising.” The group has also recorded that journalists and lawyers have also been on the receiving end of extra-judicial actions, “ranging from assassinations, death threats, to intimidation.”
The KRR has put forth two main demands to the authorities:
Stop harassment of Kashmiri journalists, and
Stop harassment of Kashmiri lawyers.
The KRR research on the harassment of Kashmiri journalists records that in 2020, journalists Masrat Zahra, Peerzada Ashique and Gowhar Geelani, have been questioned, or booked under the anti terror laws. Others also facing these laws are:
August 2020: Qazi Shibli, editor Kashmiriyat is still being held. He was first detained under the Public Safety Act in August 2019, and released on April 25, 2020. He was summoned again on July 31, 2020 by the Cyber crime cell of J&K Police, and is still being held.
June 10, 2020: Fahad Shah, editor The Kashmir Walla Magazine (TKW) was summoned to the police station for the second time this year states KRR. An FIR has also been filed against him under sections 147, 307, 109, 501, 505 of the Indian Penal Code. In 2017, he was questioned for several hours at Kashmir’s infamous Cargo detention centre, and all his electronic devices were confiscated for forensic tests. In 2018, his residence was allegedly attacked with teargas shells, and his vehicle was also vandalised later that year.
2018 onwards: Asif Sultan, a journalist from Kashmir Narrator, continues to remain in jail as an undertrial.
2018: Shujat Bukhari, editor Rising Kashmir faced intimidation and was ultimately assassinated.
The Kashmir Reading Room states that the role of local media to tell and record the story of Kashmir as it develops is more important than ever, “but the judicious fulfilment of this role comes at a cost as new ways of suppressing dissent are proliferated in Kashmir.” They add that while the attacks on the media could be addressed by court that too is not accessible to most journalists in Jammu and Kashmir. “With the suspension of Habeas Corpus rights and the arrest of lawyers, these are unprecedented times of peril for the people of Kashmir. However, with the arrest of prominent lawyers in Kashmir, the already feeble system has come to a breaking point,” stated the Reading Room members who chose to remain anonymous as they research on law, governance, policy and social issues affecting Jammu and Kashmir.
Kashmiri lawyers facing the law include the President of the High Court Bar Association of J & K Mian Abdul Qayoom. According to KRR Habeel Iqbal, a legal consultant for the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), was summoned in July, to the police station.
These actions, stated KRR violate the following provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:
Article 9: The prohibition on arbitrary arrest and detention.
Article 14: The right to a fair and public trial.
Article 18: Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Article 19: Right to freedom of expression.
The Kashmir Reading room members have demanded that:
The Indian Government must uphold their commitment to human dignity and morality.
The Indian Government must end the harassment of journalists and lawyers in Kashmir.
Law enforcement agencies must enable journalists and lawyers to work freely in safety.
The Kashmir Reading Room has also compiled a report that documents changes in the political, legal, policy, and economic sphere in J&K since August 2019. This report has been divided into three sections. The first includes opinions and analysis from a diverse range of contributors. The second includes the letters, statements and representations drafted by KRR since August 5, 2019. The third section includes a report submitted by KRR to the United Nations (UN). This report, states KRR, covers human rights violations under international law.
The Kashmir Reading Room Yearly Report, August 2019 – August 2020 may be read here:
Kashmir’s politics, social fabric, economy is battered, silenced, imprisoned: Anuradha Bhasin
I got my award for my work, not for sitting at home: Masrat Zahra
Right to Internet: Is it a fundamental right in India?
A Pulitzer for Kashmir
UN takes closer look at attacks on women journalists
Jammu and Kashmir: The impact of lockdowns on Human Rights