Editors call it ‘press censorship’, vow to fight it out; Govt remains ‘switched off’, ‘not reachable’, doesn’t issue official statement; death toll in Valley reaches 41
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
SRINAGAR: For the first time in the last over six years, Government of Jammu and Kashmir has allegedly ordered suspension of all newspapers in Kashmir valley as Police conducted midnight raids on printing presses of two leading dailies and seized copies and plates with the ‘warning’ that no newspapers be printed till clearance from the higher authorities.
Editors of the two leading English language dailies Greater Kashmir and Rising Kashmir, namely Fayaz Ahmad Kaloo and Shujaat Bukhari, said that Police parties from Humhama Police Division of Budgam District Police raided their printing presses respectively at Rangreth and Humhama after last midnight. The Police contingent seized all the bundles of GK’s sister publication ‘Kashmir Uzma’, a daily in Urdu, besides plates of GK. Four employees, including manager of the press, were taken away, detained for several hours without questioning and let off in the morning on Saturday.
Mr Bukhari said that when the Police party reached his press, the newspaper had been printed and sent to a distributor in Srinagar. Police took away the employees to Civil Lines area, seized the bundles and subsequently dumped them at Humhama Police Division.
Editors of two more English language dailies, Kashmir Reader and Kashmir Observer, said that bundles of their newspapers were snatched away by Police from the hawkers and distributors and seized.
Editors and working journalists held sit-in protest against the government action against the newspapers at press enclave and called it “press emergency”. Holding placards, newspaper owners and editors vowed that they would “fight it out”. They attempted to talk to different Government functionaries, including DGP and Director Information but none of them responded to the telephone calls. Subsequently, they called Cabinet’s spokesperson and Minister of Education Naeem Akhtar who told them that the Police action had been decided by the Government. Asked if the editors could continue printing their newspapers, Mr Akhtar advised them not to publish any newspapers till July 19. However, nobody in the Government either responded to calls or issued a statement on the Police action against the newspapers.
After the meeting, the editors and publishers said in a statement: “An emergency meeting of Kashmir based newspaper editors/owners was held on Saturday afternoon in which the situation arising out of the police raids on all the printing presses was discussed threadbare. This action of the government which resulted in breakdown of circulation of newspapers was strongly condemned”
The participants termed it as an “attack on the freedom of press” and vowed “to fight it back at all costs”. Meanwhile, all the local cable TV networks were also taken down for unknown reasons.
When STATE TIMES made repeated attempts to obtain an official version, Chief Secretary B.R. Sharma and DGP K Rajendra Kumar did not pick up the calls. Cellphone of Principal Secretary Home R.K. Goyal was switched off. He had reportedly secured a BSNL SIM on Saturday but that had not been activated till midnight. BSNL phones of Cabinet spokesperson Naeem Akhtar and Director Information Zuber Ahmad were permanently switched off. One call matured on Mr Ahmad’s phone but he did not respond.
In absence of an official version, it was assumed that the Government had decided to suspend publication of all Kashmir-based newspapers with the apprehension that certain news stories, photographs and statements of some politicians could aggravate the already simmering situation.
Sources in the Government maintained that no authority, including Home Secretary and District Magistrates, had issued any formal order for seizing the newspapers or sealing off the printing presses.
Editors said that their staff worked and online editions of all the dailies, which were not disturbed by the Government, would continue. In North Kashmir there was complete information and communication blockade as no phone or internet services operated. In Central and South Kashmir, only BSNL mobile phone services, landline and Internet through Broadband operated on Saturday.
Death toll reaches 41
Meanwhile with one more fatal casualty in Kupwara, death toll in the 8 days of turbulence, after militant Burhan Wani’s killing in an encounter on July 8th, has reached 41. Sources said that a 22-year-old protester Shaukat Ahmad Malik got killed and two more sustained injuries when Police opened fire on an unruly crowd at Hatmulla. The crowd had attacked and attempted to set on fire Police Post of Hatmulla in Kupwara. Sources said that around 35 incidents of clashes and stone pelting were reported across the Valley on Saturday as Kashmir reeled under curfew and shutdown on the 8th consecutive day.
A Police spokesman said: “The overall situation in the valley remained under control today though some incidents of stone pelting were reported. The stray and intermittent incidents of stone pelting were reported from Pothkhah in Sopore, Hatmulla and Khumriyal in Kupwara, Papchan, Nasu and new bus stand in Bandipora”
“At Hatmulla, a violent mob attacked the police post Hatmulla and attempted to set it on fire. While dealing with the situation one person was injured, who later on succumbed to his injuries. An unruly mob set on fire a police guard room at Wullar Vintage Park in Bandipora. Some police and security force personnel including an SI got injured in these incidents and have been referred to Srinagar”
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