Srinagar: Former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti on Monday shot a letter to Press Council of India (PCI) seeking its intervention to prevent the continued harassment of media by the authorities in the region.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president tweeted about the letter adding that the authorities have prepared a questionnaire that seeks what Mehbooba termed as “personal and bizarre” information such as their religious and political affiliations and ties with Pakistan.
“Wrote to @IndEditorsGuild about continued harassment that media in J&K is facing. On one hand pliable journalists are paradropped here to parrot the normalcy narrative. But local journalists who work under tremendous pressure and speak truth to power are punished,” she tweeted.
In a letter to the secretary PCI, Mehbooba has urged the body to send a fact-finding team to Jammu and Kashmir to independently verify claims of snooping, harassment and intimidation, she mentioned in the letter, and take remedial action against these.
In the letter, which has been marked to Editors Guild of India (EGI), Mehbooba also stated that she had hoped that the PCI would take a suo moto note of these widely reported incidents. “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 intervention,” the letter reads.
The senior politician also enclosed a copy of a questionnaire that, she claims, has been served to the journalists who are being investigated by the state. Mehbooba picked apart the questionnaire which, she says, apart from asking “irrelevant and personal” questions, is based on an assumption that their personal ties and loyalties lie with “anti-national” networks.
“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,” She wrote.
Citing the raids carried out by the J&K police at the homes of four journalists earlier this month, Mehbooba added that the people at large and media particularly has been at the receiving end. The police on September 8 raided the homes of four senior journalists – Showkat Motta, Hilal Mir, Azhar Qadri and Shah Abbas – while seizing their personal items such as electronic gadgets like mobile phones, laptops, ATM cards and passports including of their spouses.
The raids by the authorities were condemned widely by regional press bodies and international press freedom groups like Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters sans frontières (RSF) and others. The incident happened just weeks after the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) had asked the Government of India (GoI) to take measures to stop “arbitrary detention and intimidation of journalists covering the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.”
Many including the political mainstream of J&K term the action against media in the region as part of the larger crackdown the government is carrying out especially after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A on August 5, 2019, a move that was widely opposed by political parties, civil society, traders and rights groups in the region.
“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, ATMs cards etc,” Mehbooba said.
The letter also pointed out that as many as 23 journalists have been put on an exit control list (ECL) and added that a student was recently de-boarded from a plane, arrested and subsequently released. “Even students who bag scholarships in prestigious colleges in top universities of world not allowed to go study there,” the letter states.