ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Sunday slammed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for “muzzling independent voices” of the media and journalists reporting from occupied Kashmir, where a media blackout has continued for months, harassment of reporters is on the rise, and those who speak up face intimidation.
In a statement issued Sunday, the World Press Freedom Day 2020, the foreign ministry said it condemned the Indian government-sanctioned repression, noting that “while saluting their exceptional courage, we also honour the sacrifice of those Kashmiri journalists who have laid down their lives in the line of duty”.
“The latest among those martyrs was Shujaat Bukhari in June 2018,” the statement added. “It is commendable that Kashmiri journalists continue to work with conviction and professionalism, despite the heavy handedness of Indian occupation forces acting with impunity under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA), Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
“Global media watchdogs, Indian and international human rights groups, and civil society organizations have expressed deep concerns over unprecedented restrictions imposed on the media, the widespread intimidation of Kashmiri journalists, and the precarious state of their work environment,” it noted further.
Situation ‘more alarming’
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government — led by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and inspired by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — was bent on “hiding its blatant human rights violations in [India-occupied Kashmir] and is bent on muzzling independent voices of the media and journalists”, the foreign ministry said.
“The situation has become more alarming after India’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5 August 2019,” when it scrapped occupied Kashmir’s special status under the constitution and imposed a curfew.
“Pakistan condemns this Indian campaign of harassment and intimidation and calls upon India to immediately lift all communication restrictions in IOJ&K; withdraw frivolous cases filed against Kashmiri journalists; and restore all fundamental freedoms of the Kashmiri people,” the statement added further.
Violation of Fourth Geneva Convention
Late last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan had said Modi’s government was committing war crimes in occupied Kashmir under the cover of the virus pandemic and that New Delhi was violating the Fourth Geneva Convention by continuing the genocide of Kashmiris.
“Under cover of COVID19 global pandemic, the Modi Govt with its fascist Hindutva Supremacist RSS-driven ideology continues its war crimes in IOJK,” PM Imran had said on Twitter.
The premier had added that the United Nations recognised occupied Kashmir as a disputed territory and that the international community had a responsibility to take note of India’s war crimes there.
Reporting from Kashmir ‘virtually impossible’
In an April report, the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) had said it had become “virtually impossible” for journalists to report from occupied Kashmir, pushing India two spots down from last year to 142.
The RSF report had also noted that India’s score was heavily affected by the situation in occupied Kashmir. The group called the region a “vast open prison” due to shutting down of fixed line and mobile Internet connections by the Modi-led government.
The RSF had also stated that there were constant press freedom violations in the country, including police violence against journalists, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials.
‘Particularly virulent’ campaigns
“Ever since the general elections in the spring of 2019, won overwhelmingly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, pressure on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line has increased,” said the report.
The coordinated hate campaigns launched on social media against journalists who speak or write about subjects that annoy Hindutva followers were alarming, it added, noting that the campaigns also called for the concerned journalists to be murdered.
“The campaigns are particularly virulent when the targets are women,” the report had noted. “Criminal prosecutions are meanwhile often used to gag journalists critical of the authorities, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which ‘sedition’ is punishable by life imprisonment.”