Pellet injuries to 4 journalists once again highlights the distressing and dangerous working conditions of media-persons in Kashmir,Tuesday’s incident of four journalists being injured by pellets fired by security forces while they were covering an encounter and related protests in South Kashmir is yet another grim reminder that the lives of journalists in Kashmir are at stake amidst the continuing strife and conflict.
The journalists are under threat and operating under extremely difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, the threat on their lives and their ability to perform and discharge their duties does not only come from the non-state actors but also the state actors which must be guided by law and respect for constitutional guarantees. This is not the first time that journalists have become a casualty to the brutality of pellets and bullets but there is definitely an increase in such incidents since 2016. The vulnerability of lives of journalists performing in grueling circumstances is already well demonstrated by the brutal and shocking killing of senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari last June.
Despite such a high profiled killing, the investigating agencies have been unable to come up with a convincing probe in the case, other than few media leaks that leave several angles of the murder unanswered. Many journalists have been beaten up while discharging their professional duties at encounter sites and during street protests, a shocking case was last year’s encounter in Srinagar. Journalists have also faced curbs on their movement on several occasions in a bid to stop them from reporting some incidents and thus blocking flow of information. Needless to point out that government often employs enough force to ensure that publication of newspapers is impossible even though no official bans are imposed. In 2010, 2013 and 2016, newspapers could not hit the stands for weeks together. The flow if information is completely choked and internet which in these days is the vital need for both accessing and disseminating information remains erratic and randomly banned for days together, making the operation of media much more difficult, apart from the physical threats to life.
Journalists in Kashmir are constantly fighting various fronts. Squeezing the financial life-line of local newspapers, particularly by way of stopping advertisements, which are the main source of revenue of newspapers makes their survival difficult. The financial crunch faced by media organization on this count deprives working journalists of prospects of better pay scales and financial security. The journalists working in the field are not just risking their lives in pursuance of their professional duties, they are doing so while being paid a pittance. Instead of appreciating the hazardous working conditions of journalists, the state makes all out efforts to obstruct space for free media. Not only does it fail to bring in accountability mechanisms to either probe the cases of threats and assaults by non-state actors or take action against personnel of government agencies behind such acts, the government goes the whole hog in further creating an atmosphere of insecurity for the journalists by subjecting them to unjustifiable arrests. In 2017, a freelance photographer, Kamran Yousuf was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and later freed on bail. Few months later, another reporters, Auqib Javeed, was summoned by the same agency and released after few days of questioning. In September 2018, Asif Sultan, the assistant editor of local magazine, Kashmir Narrator, was arrested by local police for allegedly harbouring ‘terrorists’ and glorifying militants through his writing. In none of these cases there is an iota of evidence to support such claims. That the investigating agencies are unable to come out with any evidence in support of their argument in any of the cases demonstrates the manner in which such arrests are being used as a pressure tactic. In recent reports, Committee for Protection of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have observed that journalists are deliberately being made targets by security agencies by subjecting them to violence or arresting them without any basis. Unfortunately, media watch dogs at the national level have failed to speak up for journalists and media operating in Kashmir in circumstances that are extremely difficult and beg for support and solidarity.