New York, August 29, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Indian authorities to protect journalists and lift restrictions on media workers in the curfew-bound northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, after a cameraman was reportedly killed and a near-total news blackout hit the main city of Srinagar.
Srinagar newspapers did not reach the stands today for the fifth consecutive day and cable operators shut down international news broadcasts on Thursday because of an almost uninterrupted government-imposed curfew, according to local news reports that are still being published sporadically online. Local television news broadcasts were ordered off the air on Sunday. Officials have been holding talks with cable operators and newspaper editors but no resolution has yet been reached.
A BBC report said security forces shot and killed cameraman Javed Ahmed Mir on August 13 while he was waiting for an equipment van to arrive from a local news channel he worked for part-time.
“The situation for the news media in Kashmir is dire,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the Indian authorities to immediately allow broadcasters to return to air and to ensure that journalists can move about freely. It is vital that news gets out during such a chaotic time in the region.”
Srinagar-based newspapers last went to print on Sunday, but distribution was curtailed by a 24-hour curfew imposed in the early hours that morning to thwart anti-government protests. Monday’s issues went unpublished, according to local journalists. Officials reassured editors this week that steps would be taken to protect journalists after several complained of violence when government-issued curfew passes were ignored by police, local reporters told CPJ by telephone. But editors said they will be unable to print until all media staff are free to come to work, including hawkers, who are central to the local distribution system and are on the streets from 4 a.m., a local journalist told CPJ.
Officials banned local news and current affairs programming in a letter sent to cable operators on Sunday. News reports published online from the Kashmir Valley said that some cable operators withdrew all remaining Indian and international news broadcasts on Thursday in protest against the continuing government ban.
The government has denied banning international news, after programs went off the air on Thursday. But a report on Pakistani news Web site The News says authorities in Srinagar had already banned several Pakistani television stations, including news and entertainment programs, in a letter to cable operators on Wednesday. Irfan Ahmed, vice president of the Take 1 television group, told CPJ that his company, which distributes cable television throughout the valley, was in talks with local officials but that recent gaps in their programming were the result of technical difficulties, not protests.
Journalists were hopeful that the restricted newspapers could begin printing again from Monday. “The situation is limping back to normal,” Ahmed Ali Fayyaz, the Daily Excelsior’s Srinagar bureau chief told CPJ today.
One journalist said that some newspapers had been published in the other major city of Jammu, but that they were not widely available due to the stymied distribution system elsewhere in the state. Jammu officials also withdrew the television news ban after six hours, according to a report published on the news Web site Greater Kashmir. An unidentified group protesting inadequate coverage of the independence burned stacks of the Jammu-based Daily Excelsior on August 23, according to news reports.
The predominantly Muslim state has seen escalating turmoil since the local government promised a disputed tract of land to a Hindu shrine in June. Separatist groups in the Indian-governed portion of Kashmir seek independence or union with Pakistan.
CPJ is a New York–based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.