Asia

by Vikram Parekh

Press freedom conditions in Asia continued on their established course, rarely bringing welcome news to local journalists. Volatile situations became more so, and authoritarian regimes lived up to their reputations; but journalists in the few nascent democracies reaped the benefits of continued liberalization.

Conditions deteriorated most dramatically in Pakistan, where a large and vibrant press community faced violent attacks, police harassment, newspaper bans and defamation suits. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto quickly decried several of the more glaring assaults but did little to stop the abuses. A case in point was the vandalizing of the BBC's Islamabad offices and the assault on its correspondents. Although a fundamentalist party acknowledged responsibility for the attack, authorities took no steps to prosecute the perpetrators or their leadership, which supports the ruling party in Punjab province.

The press fared little better in neighboring Indian-held Kashmir. Journalists there were subjected to raids and interrogations by Indian troops; they also faced kidnappings, threats and forced shutdowns by militant separatists and an allegedly Indian-backed counterinsurgency force. Because so many are party to the conflict, accountability is easily evaded. Both a bomb explosion in the BBC's Srinagar offices that killed a local photojournalist and the abduction and shooting of a prominent Kashmiri reporter remained unresolved at year's end.

Despite two years of multiparty government, Cambodia became increasingly autocratic. Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, the country's emerging strongman, spoke approvingly of a mob that attacked an opposition newspaper, and his government initiated criminal defamation suits that threatened to close several others. Underscoring these actions was a new press law. Widely condemned by local and international press groups, it allowed authorities to temporarily shut down newspapers and incorporated an ill-defined national security clause that exposed virtually all political writers to criminal prosecution.

Indonesia closed the door on an experiment of its own. A crackdown on the country's independent press that began with the June 1994 ban of three leading newsweeklies continued with the conviction and sentencing of three journalists for publishing underground magazines that were critical of the Suharto regime. One of the writers, Ahmad Taufik, president of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), was given a 1995 International Press Freedom Award by CPJ. AJI has been at the forefront of defending press freedom in Indonesia, and more than 80 of its members have lost their jobs due to government pressure on their editors.

China, equally indifferent to international opprobrium, reincarcerated two of its most prominent dissident writers: Wei Jingsheng and Chen Ziming. Both had defended freedom of expression during their brief periods out of jail. The country's leaders also seized control of financial information channels, forcing Western news wires to distribute their business reports through the official Xinhua News Agency. The move followed a purge of the country's increasingly autonomous television stations, two of which were shut down, with warnings issued to several others.

Singapore's Orwellian government continued to keep its domestic press firmly in line. But its rancorous relationship with the foreign media soured further with local courts twice fining the International Herald Tribune for publishing opinion pieces that questioned the government's claims of judicial independence and bureaucratic meritocracy. Authorities also took on the Internet, which provided a rare forum for dissidence in Singapore. Rather than restricting access to the Net, however, they flooded it with pro-government postings.

East Asia's two emerging democracies, Taiwan and South Korea, offered unheeded models to their neighbors. While government control over much of the broadcast media in Taiwan and a repressive national security law in South Korea limited press freedom in both countries, both showed notable gains during the year. Taiwan ended a 10-month crackdown on pirate radio broadcasters, after a protest by CPJ, and licensed the country's first private, pro-opposition television station. Meanwhile, South Korea's press called former and current political leaders to account in a mushrooming corruption scandal.

Vikram Parekh is the program coordinator for Asia. He holds a J.D. from Rutgers Law School and is fluent in Gujarati. Before joining CPJ, Parekh was a Ford Foundation fellow at New York's International Center for Law in Development and worked for the International Human Rights Law Group in Washington, D.C., and the International Institute of New Jersey.

Belisa Morillo and Caroline Nath, former CPJ research assistants, contributed to this report.

Country-by-country reports of attacks on the press in this region are available at CPJ's Web site and in the print edition of this book.



SPECIAL REPORT

On a Razor's Edge:

Local Journalists Targeted by Warring Parties in Kashmir


by Vikram Parekh

For half a century, Indian newspapers and magazines have enjoyed a degree of real independence unrivaled in the developing world. Literally thousands of ideologically and ethnically diverse periodicals circulate freely with little or no official interference.

Yet in the embattled northwestern state of Jammu and Kashmir, press freedom is under attack. Local reporters covering the decades-old secessionist movement there routinely face legal harassment, physical assaults, abductions and the threat of assassination. They work under a state of siege: News offices resemble bunkers, and journalists live in fear of Indian troops, armed separatists and, more recently, counterinsurgency forces.

Put simply, there is no freedom of the press in Kashmir today.

That is the central conclusion of a 1995 CPJ report, which documents dozens of cases of intimidation, arbitrary detention, physical assault and murders of local Kashmiri reporters. The following is an updated excerpt from that report, which is based on extensive firsthand research by Asia Program Coordinator Vikram Parekh, including his three-week fact-finding trip to the region in the spring of 1995. [For a copy of the complete report, please contact CPJ.]

On Sept. 7, 1995, an unidentified woman clad in an enveloping black burkha delivered a package to the office of Yusuf Jameel, the Srinagar correspondent for the BBC and Reuters. Jameel was on the phone at the time, and his colleague Mushtaq Ali, an Agence France-Presse photographer, opened the package for him. The helpful gesture proved deadly. The parcel exploded, severing Ali's left hand, disfiguring his face and severely injuring his right hand and abdomen. He died of his wounds three days later. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, and the case remains unresolved.

Ali was the fifth Kashmiri journalist to be murdered since 1990, when a long-running dispute over sovereignty in Kashmir escalated into an all-out war between separatist militants and Indian government forces. The warring parties have often viewed local journalists and the news outlets they work for as mouthpieces of their adversaries and have made it a part of their offensive to intimidate the media into reporting their particular view at the expense of all others. This tug-of-war over the press has resulted in a variety of attacks against journalists, the most brutal of which has been assassination.

Each of the five murders of journalists since 1990 has had a profound impact on the local press community. Two of them involved journalists working for local branches of the broadcast media, which, as entirely state-owned enterprises, are frequent targets of militant attacks. The 1990 murder of Lassa Kaul, director of the government-owned Doordarshan television station in Srinagar, prompted the station's closure for a three-year period, while the 1993 slaying of Radio Kashmir news reader Mohammad Shafi Bhat sparked a wave of resignations by his colleagues. The unsolved April 1991 murder of Al-Safa editor in chief Mohammad Shaban Vakil served to mute local journalists' criticism of Kashmiri militants, whom many suspect killed him. And the August 1994 murder of stringer Ghulam Mohammed Lone has had a chilling effect on stringers working in outlying areas of the Kashmir Valley, where most human rights abuses by Indian troops are said to occur.

Lack of Access and Transparency

Other forms of abuse by both government forces and insurgent militias have proved equally debilitating for the local press. Indian troops regularly subject print journalists to raids, detentions and interrogations, both to identify their contacts within militant groups and to reprimand them for disclosing human rights violations by military and police forces. In a few cases, journalists have even reported being beaten and tortured while in official custody.

Local journalists also charge that security forces deny them access to several key areas, notably towns within five kilometers from the line of control between India and Pakistan, places where cordon-and-search operations are being conducted, and areas where government and militant forces are at a standoff. Indian human rights activists echo their complaints, saying the access restrictions prevent reporters from independently verifying many alleged human rights abuses. "One of the ways of ensuring transparency, we have argued, is to allow press people to be present during crackdowns," said Tappan Bose of the Delhi-based Committee for Initiative on Kashmir.

The destruction in May 1995 of the Sufi shrine at Charar-e-Sharif, a town located about 25 kilometers from Srinagar, offers perhaps the best illustration of Bose's point. In mid-March, authorities banned all reporters from visiting the town, where, since January, Harkat-ul-Ansar and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants had been occupying the 15th-century shrine. The shrine was besieged by Indian army troops soon after the militants set up camp. The siege ended, however, in the second week of May, when fires of undetermined origin gutted the shrine and most of the surrounding town. Because of the ban on reporting in the area, no independent accounts of the shrine's destruction were available. In the tragedy's immediate aftermath, reporters were allowed no closer than one kilometer from the town's ruins and then only under army escort. And at week's end, a curfew effectively confined visiting reporters to their hotel during a fact-finding visit by Indian Home Minister S.B. Chavan and Finance Minister Manmohan Singh.

Authorities were also extremely sparing in their disclosures to the press. During CPJ's visit to Kashmir, a wire-service correspondent said that the government had issued only one statement on the Charar-e-Sharif tragedy, "and that was an announcement that they were giving safe passage to the militants." This paucity of real information from officials has been long-standing, according to another reporter. "Since 1991, the police department has issued handouts that give you half-truths or lies regarding the security developments," he said. "We don't get anything else."

Forced to Please a Thousand Masters

The Kashmiri separatist movement embraces nine major--and over 100 minor--militant groups, all of whom have attempted to intimidate local journalists. Militant groups periodically fire rockets at radio and television stations and have coerced most of the Kashmiri staff to leave their posts. And through threats, circulation "bans" and forced closures, militants also compel local newspapers to publish their groups' statements on a daily basis. But because of the intense rivalries within the militant movement, which includes pro-Pakistan Islamists--many of whom are reportedly armed and trained by Pakistan--and proponents of an independent, secular Jammu and Kashmir, the press must carefully negotiate the conflicting demands of these parties.

Until recently, mediation was possible through a separatist umbrella group, the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), to which most of the leading militant parties belong. Now, however, the pot has been stirred by the emergence of militias that many observers believe are allied with the Indian army, if not outrightly supported by it. Their main targets have been hard-line Islamist militants, especially the pro-Pakistan Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. The best known of these "counterinsurgency" forces is the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon, led by a former timber smuggler known as Koka Parray.

The emergence of militias like Parray's has made it more difficult to assess responsibility for recent attacks on the press. And, more critically, it has offered the Indian army and the armed separatists a convenient excuse to absolve themselves of accountability.

A case in point is the December 1995 shooting of Zafar Meraj, a respected print and broadcast reporter. Meraj was abducted by gunmen, shot in the abdomen and abandoned by the roadside in a remote part of the Kashmir Valley. At the time of his abduction, Meraj was returning from an interview with Parray for the Hong Kong-based Zee Television--a fact that led some to view Parray as the guilty party. But Meraj told colleagues that his abductors faulted him for allowing "an Indian informant" to air his views. Still others suggest the possibility that it was Parray's men who seized Meraj and that they had defamed their leader in order to cast suspicion elsewhere.

When the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon abducted two Srinagar editors in July, it did not release them until the entire Srinagar press agreed to print a statement by Parray criticizing the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Local newspapers and their readers paid a high price for that decision: an enraged Hizb-ul-Mujahideen forcibly closed one of the local printing presses and seized copies of local dailies in which the statement appeared. The press community promptly launched a protest strike, and for nearly one month no papers were printed in the capital.

Throughout those four weeks, Kashmiri journalists had nowhere to turn but to the antagonists themselves. The APHC was reluctant to restrain its most powerful constituent in the face of a challenge from a group that it saw as an Indian front. And, despite reports to the contrary in the Indian and Western presses, the Indian government denied having any links to, or influence over, the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon.

Defying a History of Abuse

One person who symbolizes the predicament Kashmiri journalists face is the doyen of Kashmir's Urdu-language press, Khwaja Sanaullah Bhat, founder and editor in chief of the daily Aftab. His newspaper is the oldest in the Valley and has steadfastly maintained its independence over a 38-year period. The small, nondescript building housing Aftab, which is at some remove from Srinagar's residential journalist compound, resembles a bunker, much like those set up by Indian troops throughout the city. Entry to the paper's offices is blocked by a desk in the main doorway and a phalanx of staff members. Beyond them lie still more desks strategically placed to obstruct access to a maze-like corridor that ultimately leads to Bhat's office.

In April 1990, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir ordered Aftab closed after the paper reported at length about a series of massacres by Indian forces. And even though a court ruling overturned the governor's order 10 days after it was issued, Bhat has continued to work under great duress, suffering frequent raids on his offices by Indian troops and the burning of his house by militants in August 1993.

Bhat's perseverance and the survival of Aftab are not unusual in Kashmir, which, despite the pressures imposed by the conflict, remains home to a flourishing press community. Within Srinagar, a city of only 650,000, there are 12 major dailies, 30 smaller ones and 20 weekly newspapers.

The Urdu-language press, which includes 10 of the major dailies, saw a mushrooming of new publications after the 1989 uprising, and consequently many of them have a broadly pro-militant cast, as does the valley-based English-language daily Greater Kashmir and its recently launched sister publication, The Mirror. The state's two other English dailies--the politically independent Kashmir Times and the pro-government Excelsior-- are both published in the winter capital of Jammu; of these, only the Kashmir Times boasts a statewide readership and a Srinagar news bureau.

What makes the survival of the Kashmiri press all the more remarkable is that it has regularly faced attempts to suppress it during the state's nearly 50-yearlong struggle over sovereignty. And some of the tactics now used to intimidate the press, including the repressive Public Safety Act under which a journalist may be detained without charge for up to two years, clearly echo past abuses. According to veteran Kashmiri journalist O.N. Kaul, his newspaper, the New Kashmir Post, was banned at the outset of the administration of G.M. Sadiq in 1964, and Kaul was jailed for 92 days immediately thereafter under the Defense of India Rules. Accused of "conspiring with the enemy," Kaul says his only offense had been pointing out how minimal the changeover in personnel had been between Sadiq's regime and that of his predecessor, which Sadiq had charged with corruption.

Sadiq's heavy hand was the result, in part, of the power accorded him by India's central government, which appointed Sadiq as well as several other state leaders since 1953. Most of the elections that the state has managed to hold, including the last in 1987, have been widely denounced as fraudulent. And with the dismissal of Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah in January 1990, and the simultaneous dissolution of Jammu and Kashmir's legislative assembly, the state was once again placed under federal rule. Since then, periodic proposals to hold elections have been shelved due to continued unrest in the valley.

In November 1994, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao transferred decision-making authority over Kashmir from the Home Minister's office to a newly established Department of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, headed by Rao himself. Major policy decisions about Kashmir are now made by the prime minister, with input from the Department's Joint Secretaries Madhukar Gupta and C. Phunsog, as well as the federally appointed state governor, former Indian Army Chief K.V. Krishna Rao.

Federal control in Kashmir is also exercised through the Indian Parliament, which plays a significant role in determining the extent of civil liberties in Kashmir through its power to designate regions within the state "disturbed areas." Among other emergency measures, such a designation allows police and army officers to conduct warrantless raids on newspaper offices as well as the private homes of journalists and other citizens.


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