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Further Government ban on Fundamental Freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir

On the basis of an administrative order by the District Magistrate Srinagar, the Jammu and Kashmir Police yesterday stopped the publication of Kashmir Reader, a popular English daily newspaper published from Srinagar.

The move comes in a phase of unprecedented military and governmental crack down on civilians in Indian administered Kashmir, after anti-India protests erupted in the region following the killing of militant Burhan Wani on 8 July 2016. Repressive measures deployed by the Indian state include the use of disproportionate and lethal force against protestors – resulting in 90+ killings, grievous injuries, declared and undeclared curfew / restrictions on mobility and assembly, arbitrary arrests, raids and preventive detentions, and repeated and continuous curtailments of press freedoms, internet, television and telecommunications access.

The notice issued to the Chief Editor, Kashmir Reader at their offices last evening, read “printing and publication of the above stated Newspaper can disrupt public tranquility in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and Srinagar district in particular and therefore it has become expedient in the interest of prevention of this anticipated breach of public tranquility to forthwith take necessary precautionary measures.” The notice cites three legislations as the basis for the order.

First, Section 3, of JK Newspaper (Incitements To Offences) Act,1971,which empowers a Magistrate to pass conditional orders of forfeiture of Printing Presses on grounds of ‘any incitement to murder or to any offence under the Explosives Substances Act,1908 (VI of 1908) or to any Act of Violence’. Second, Section 10, of the JK State Press and Publications Act, 1989 which provides for the forfeiture of the security deposit, or presses themselves, of a publication, based on a broad tranche of grounds including incitement to violence, promotion of hatred between communities, intimidation and feelings of disaffection for the government. Legitimate criticism and dissent are specifically protected under the law. Third, Section 144 (1), JK Criminal Procedure Code which states that a District Magistrate may direct any person to abstain from a certain act or to act in a specific manner in order to prevent ‘danger to human life, health or safety, or a disturbance of the public tranquility, or riot, or an affray’. The Indian Supreme Court has limited the use of this section to cases of emergency, where consequences are grave, and the threat imminentand clear.

The Indian administration in Kashmir, routinely invokes these and otherbroad, unrestricted extraordinary powers to curtail legitimate expressions of thought, expression, assembly and dissent in Kashmir. The ban on Kashmir Reader, is a mala fide and arbitrary exercise of State power as is routinely seen in cases of administrative detentions, including that of noted human rights defender Khurram Parvez [6000+ have been detained thus far including under the internationally condemned Public Safety Act], without any concern for constitutional, legislative or procedural limits to their exercise, and without reference to any material remotely suggestive of any incitement to violence, or breach of public peace. The ex-parte clause in these legislations is used as a matter of procedural routine in every case, instead of only in an emergency as prescribed.

The ongoing repression of the freedom of press, and internationally and domestically recognized fundamental human rights of free speech, thought and expression by the Indian State in Kashmir, is indicative of India’s intention to block access to information and attention to the ongoing widespread and systematic human rights abuses and impunity in Kashmir.

Prior to this present incident, publication of all newspapers in Kashmir was stopped, printing presses raided and newspapers seized on 16 July 2016. Newspapers commenced publication on 20 July 2016. Kashmir Reader was at that time, served with a specific legal notice from the Central Reserve Police Force, in response to a news report about an alleged sexual assault and illegal detention by CRPF Personnel. The curtailment of press and internet freedoms in Kashmir was widely condemned by international human rights groups, including Amnesty International.

Report by JKCCS

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