Kashmir Valley goes without papers

August 28th, 2008 - 7:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, Aug 28 (IANS) Not a single Srinagar-based newspaper hit the stands for the fifth day Thursday - old timers say this was unprecedented - because of the continuous curfew restrictions in the Kashmir Valley, inviting a sharp reaction from the journalist fraternity here. “It was the fifth day and no newspaper in the Kashmir Valley has been able to bring out its print edition. Reason - curfew restrictions,” said Bashir Manzar, editor of daily Kashmir Images published from here.

Manzar said the journalists working for local English as well as vernacular newspapers were not given curfew passes. “And if some have been given, paramilitary troopers are not respecting such permits,” he alleged.

It is for the first time in the recent history of the Kashmir Valley that not a single newspaper has hit the stands for such a long time. Press in the conflict-ridden valley has been working in difficult circumstances for the last two decades of militancy.

“Despite huge pressures from militants and the government, there has never been such a long halt. This is unprecedented,” Farooq Javed, photo editor of an English daily, told IANS.

Indefinite curfew was imposed in the valley in the wee hours Sunday to foil separatist march to city centre Lal Chowk Monday. The curfew has been relaxed but in phased manner Wednesday and Thursday across the valley.

“Local media has been made into the proverbial scapegoat by the government despite the claims of commitment to the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of press,” Javed said.

Jammu and Kashmir has been witnessing widespread violent demonstrations for more than two and a half months now. The protests were triggered following a dispute over 40 hectares of forest land “diverted” to the Hindu Amarnath shrine board. The allotment was later cancelled July 1 following a backlash in Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley. When order was reversed, Hindus staged demonstrations, blocking the movement of goods to the valley from the Hindu-majority Jammu region.

More than 45 people have died, mostly in police and paramilitary firing, in the turmoil, which has been stoked by both separatist leaders in Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley and Hindu extremists in Jammu.

On Sunday, the first day of curfew, the government asked the local TV news channels to stop beaming news and current affairs programmes blaming them for airing inflammatory news and viewpoints.

The government says there is no ban on the publication of Srinagar-based newspapers, claiming that curfew passes are being issued to journalists.

“Managements of newspapers can approach me and get curfew passes issued for staff members,” district administrative officer Srinagar Afsandyar Khan told IANS.

Asked about the complaints that paramilitary troopers were not honouring the passes Khan said: “There were some incidents but the government has taken the matter with concerned authorities.”

Manzar alleged that paramilitary troopers dishonoured his curfew pass earlier in the week as he along with his photographer moved out of their office.

“We left our office but were not allowed by troopers to move beyond.

‘Press’, we said. ‘Local?’ paramilitary guys questioned. ‘Yes.’ ‘Go back,’ they yelled.”

“I called a senior police officer, who provided a police escort to me. But the troopers gave no damn to the escort and hit our car, damaging it,” he said, adding it happened despite the curfew-pass and the police escort.

Manzar remembered a poem he wrote in 1996: “Break the pen, spill the ink, burn the paper; Lock your lips, be silent, Hssssh; Say, I saw nothing even if you do or else, have your eyes gouged; Be silent, Hsssh.”

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