LETTER REGARDING JAILED KASHMIRI JOURNALIST AASIF SULTAN – BY CARIN JODHA FISCHER
SEPTEMBER 8, 2018 NO COMMENTS
The Honorable Ed Royse
House Foreign Relations Committee
US House of Representatives
2170 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Subject: Press Freedoms and Arrests of Journalists in Kashmir
Dear Sir, I am writing to you today because I am extremely worried about the safety of journalists in Kashmir. You have already taken a principled stand against the detention of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar. I am therefore hoping that recent developments in Kashmir may also elicit a strong response from you and your committee. One prominent editor from Kashmir was killed earlier this year after having been intimidated for months by various vested interests. Many of us who knew him believe that he may have been murdered for raising awareness about human rights violations in Kashmir and calling for a political solution to the dispute over Kashmir. Since the UN published its damning report about human rights violations in Kashmir, which among many other things accuses India of stifling the press, foreign correspondents can no longer travel to Kashmir without special permission by the Home Ministry in Delhi. The Washington Post bureau chief has been waiting for permission for months and she does not believe it will be forthcoming. Al Jazeera lost its security clearance last week for producing a special on human rights violations in Kashmir. The channel will no longer be aired in India, nor will their reporters receive any future credentials for any reportage in the country.
Locally over the past two months, an already stifling environment for journalists has taken a sharp turn for the worse. While during active phases of popular uprisings/ protests in Kashmir the printing of papers critical of human rights violations and the Indian army is often stopped by the authorities, during the past few months there has been a concerted effort by security agencies to muzzle the voice of all young Kashmiri journalists at all times. Several were arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for writing legitimate stories or taking pictures of resistance related leaders or events for their publications. Some were transferred to Delhi and kept in confinement under very trying circumstances. In Srinagar, others were arrested and taken to Cargo (a notorious interrogation centre) and released only after days of intimidation and threats. Counter intelligence policemen have also conducted “seminars” on what is permitted to be written about and what would incur the wrath of the authorities, leading to arrests. Their voices have now been effectively silenced. Their phones have been confiscated and in many cases also their laptops for investigation by cyber counter insurgency teams. In the past and during other phases of the conflict several journalists were killed and some by government sponsored gunmen. While that stopped during years of “relative and enforced calm,” now that support for India has reached perhaps the lowest levels ever, Delhi is doing everything it can so that this reality will not become more public than it already has. Leading up to the 2019 elections in India, the clamp down on the Kashmiri resistance and anybody writing about it is expected to reach new heights. Most recently, Asif Sultan, a young journalist writing for The Kashmir Narrator, has been arrested, and after protests by the entire local media fraternity, false charges against him are now being framed to justify his detention.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the arrest and demanded his immediate release. IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger has said: “The arrest and charge against Asif Sultan for his reporting is deplorable and unacceptable. We demand his immediate release and urge the Indian government to critically address the deteriorating situation for media workers in Kashmir who are increasingly being targeted for doing their job.” Similarly, The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) also issued a statement saying: “Taking Sultan into custody smacks of a bigger agenda of authorities to silence journalists and media in the troubled state.” Kashmiri journalists are doing a commendable job under very difficult conditions.
Having been interrogated myself by authorities in Kashmir while living there, I also know how intimidating an environment it is. Of course, as a foreigner I could not be subjected to physical intimidation the way locals frequently are, but I am well aware of the extent of it. In closing, I would like to point out that India often gets an unfair free ride in the West, having successfully propagated the myth of being the “largest democracy” and thus sharing many of our freedoms. This is not correct, and especially under the current government press freedoms and the right to dissent everywhere are being curbed increasingly every day. This situation is of course particularly grave in Kashmir. Thanks for your attention to this matter.
Carin I. Fischer