The Jammu and Kashmir government on Sunday banned the publication of Kashmir Reader newspaper saying “the contents published in it can easily cause incitement of acts of violence and disturbance of public tranquility”. The government order came without any prior notice or any warning to the newspaper owner.
Firstpost spoke to Mir Hilal, the editor of the Kashmir Reader, which is known for its anti-establishment stand in Jammu and Kashmir.
Why do think Kashmir Reader was banned — the only newspaper in Kashmir that has faced a ban in almost 25 years in Jammu and Kashmir?
It is for the government to say. The government order accusing us of inciting violence or being a threat to ‘public tranquility’ is not enough. There have been public rebuttals of newspaper reports by police/government but no newspaper was banned. If reports of other newspapers were rebutted, the government could have similarly warned us and let us explain our position. Instead they wielded the axe.
What does it say about freedom of speech for press in Kashmir?
Well, that is obvious. But the state can very well say that freedom of speech is not absolute and it cannot be misused. Right. But aren’t their proper institutional mechanisms in place that can negotiate with a newspaper the perceived infringement of the freedom of speech? Is banning a newspaper, which also provides livelihood to dozens of people, the only form of negotiation?
Were you told informally or through formal channels that you should desist from the kind of reportage you have been accused of doing?
Was there any prior warning or sign from government before this official ban?
They stopped advertisements to our newspaper about two months ago. That is the most often used expression of the official displeasure. There was no formal warning.
What would you say a newspaper does when the government decides to ban it?
We have been reporting events of this uprising like any other newspaper. There can be difference in presentation, details, the extent and depth of reportage. As many as 90 people have been killed, some in horrific manner, thousands have been injured. The image of Insha, who has lost sight in both eyes and her entire face has been scarred by pellet injuries, is no less painful than the iconic image of that girl in My Lai massacre. Each of these stories and images is an embarrassment for the government. But those images are not the creation of any media outlet. It was our primary duty to report in these extremely difficult times. Two of our young reporters were accosted by unidentified bike-borne men during the uprising. They were stopped on the roadside and asked “to take care of yourself” and “keep your enthusiasm in check”. Our driver was beaten up by people in Kulgam and the office vehicle was damaged. Another reporter was beaten up so badly by protesters that he couldn’t come to office for a fortnight. Our junior photographer suffered pellet injuries in the head. He got 10 stitches when the pellets were removed.
We have seen similar uprisings in Kashmir in past also, but this time the government has been very harsh towards press — from beatings to being accused of fanning the uprising and now banning a newspaper. What do you think is different this time that govt has taken such measures?
The only different thing they have done this time is to ban Kashmir Reader. Otherwise the press has been intimidated in all seasons by all governments.
As a result of ban on Kashmir Reader, do you think the government has taken a dictatorial line?
Yes. But it is not surprising.