Journalist bodies of occupied Kashmir urged the Indian government to lift the ongoing ban on the internet in the region, which entered its 165th day on Wednesday.
In a session dubbed ‘cyber curfew’, which was held at the Kashmir Press Club, journalists from different media outlets and bodies lamented that they were forced to work without access to the internet in the 21st century and compared the restrictions to those imposed by Joseph Stalin in Russia, The Wire reported.
“The post August 5 situation in [occupied] Kashmir is unprecedented. Even in the early 1990s, the media in Kashmir did not face such unprecedented curbs. We also have to see what happened to those who summoned the courage to speak up or write in an objective manner,” Kashmiri journalist Peerzada Ashiq said.
Highlighting the difficulties reporters have to face since the August 5 lockdown, journalist and editor of Kashmir Images Bashir Manzar said: “We aren’t able to communicate with our sources and freely gather information. We demand the internet be restored.”
Another journalist Shafat Farooq complained that editors and media houses have accepted the government’s restrictions and as a result, several journalists had either lost their jobs or suffered salary cuts.
“When asked to bend, Kashmir’s press didn’t even crawl; it went down on its knees. We could have simply closed down the newspapers,” said journalist Shahnawaz Khan. “Collectively we have failed and even if internet is restored now, what difference will the Kashmir press make now?”
A strict lockdown and communications blackout has been in place in occupied Kashmir since August, when the Indian government stripped the region of its special status. Internet services have been blocked, making it hard for people and journalists to access information.
The Bharatiya Janata Party government has also reportedly stopped journalists from reporting the situation on the ground, blocking coverage of protests by residents and extra-judicial arrests by Indian security forces.
Rights groups and journalist bodies have repeatedly voiced concern over curbs imposed on the media by the government.