Citizens of Kashmir woke up to blank editorials in all the leading newspapers of the Valley on Tuesday morning, with the publications taking a uniform stand to protest the brutal killing of Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari. For the first time in decades, both Urdu and English dailies refrained from publishing editorials, leaving blank spaces otherwise occupied by such pieces.
Readers say they were confused at seeing the blank space, wondering if it could be a mistake, before realising every other newspaper also featured a similarly empty block of space. "I have been reading Greater Kashmir for 15 years, and Rising Kashmir ever since it launched in 2008. I was surprised when I saw editorials missing in both papers," said Malik Mohammad Yusuf, a retired senior state bureaucrat, adding that he initially thought it was a mistake.
Thousands of people thronged Kreeri village in north Kashmir on Monday to pay their last respects to the slain editor. Bukhari, 50, was leaving his office in Srinagar's Press Enclave on Thursday evening when three motorcycle-borne assailants fired dozens of rounds, killing him and his two security guards. He was headed home to the upscale Humhama neighbourhood, and was looking forward to breaking the Ramzan fast with his wife and children.
To protest the incident, the Kashmir Editors' Guild, an influential body of editors in Kashmir, held a meeting on Monday where the decision to not publish editorials was taken. "I don't remember the last time when newspapers decided not to publish editorials," said journalist Reyaz Wani.
"During the meeting on Monday, there was even a proposal of suspending publication (of newspapers) for a day. But since the editorial is the heart of a newspaper, we decided to suspend this for a day to protest the editor's killing," said Shifat Kira, a spokesperson for the Kashmir Editors' Guild.
Even editors not part of the Guild participated in the protest. Raja Mohideen editor of Tameel Irshad, an Urdu-language daily published from Srinagar, is not part of the Kashmir Editors Guild. He said Shujaat's murder is a "murder of humanity" and of a "great friend".
"It's an attack on freedom. We decided not to publish an editorial today to protest Shujaat's killing, in order to tell the assassins that we are all mourning the murder of our colleague and friend. He death is a setback to our community," he said.
The Kashmir Observer, a small but influential newspaper, wrote a commentary: "This begs the question, 'who killed Shujaat Bukhari?' The government and militant groups have blamed each other. Militants are seeing the hand of intelligence agencies and the government blames the militants. And in between these allegations and counter-allegations, one more precious life has been lost. What is more, in the absence of the whereabouts of the killers, it is rumour and innuendo that fill up the space."
Journalists across the world condemned Bukhari's killing, and the Rising Kashmir staff put out a brief message on Tuesday: "Rising Kashmir, which promised to uphold values such as truth, fairness and integrity in the field of journalism, has received a major setback. It's a difficult task, the benchmark for which was set by Shujaat, but Rising Kashmir's team and family promise to do the best we can. We are thankful to our readers and well-wishers for being our strength and patience when it was needed the most. Rising Kashmir has resumed all its publishing operations and we regret any inconvenience that may have been incidentally caused in the last few days."
Furthermore, two major global bodies of editors and publishers have also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, conveying their "grave concern" over Bukhari's assassination while seeking investigations in the case.
"We urge you to do everything possible to end the hostile media environment in Jammu and Kashmir so that journalists are able to work without fear of violence," said the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, representing 18,000 publications, 15,000 websites and over 3,000 companies in over 120 countries, with an aim of safeguarding the rights of journalists, in a letter to Modi.
On Monday, United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said he was "deeply saddened" by Bukhari's assassination. "I am tremendously saddened by the assassination of Shujaat Bukhari, a courageous human rights defender actively working for peace, including through his participation in the Track 2 diplomacy seeking to help both India and Pakistan put an end to the violence," Hussein said, during his opening statement of the 38th session of the Human Rights Council.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, while strongly condemning Shujaat's killing, said Indian authorities must bring his killers to justice.
On Monday, staff members of Rising Kashmir and a few other journalists from other organisations undertook a protest march towards Lal Chowk at the Srinagar city centre. They held placards and walked slowly towards the clock tower at Lal Chowk, where they demanded justice for their slain editor.
Updated Date: Jun 19, 2018 13:08:58 IST