Friday, March 1, 2024

Global press freedom body demands immediate unblock of The Kashmir Walla

Authorities in India must immediately unblock the website and social media accounts of the independent Kashmiri news outlet The Kashmir Walla, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

On Saturday, August 19, The Kashmir Walla became inaccessible in India following an order by India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to block its website under the IT Act without any prior notice, according to a statement by The Kashmir Walla.

The Kashmir Walla, which is known for its human rights reporting in the Jammu and Kashmir, said its accounts on Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter, were also blocked, describing the government’s action as “opaque censorship” and “gut-wrenching.”

The media outlet said it also received an eviction notice from the landlord of its office in Srinagar on the same day.

“The Indian government’s arbitrary ban on The Kashmir Walla’s website and social media accounts marks a new low for press freedom in the region,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Kuala Lumpur. “If the Indian government aims to be taken seriously as a democracy, it must promptly reinstate The Kashmir Walla’s website and accounts, and put an end to the persecution, harassment, and arrest of journalists in Kashmir.”

“The blocking of The Kashmir Walla’s website and social media accounts is the latest move to stifle the press in Muslim-majority Kashmir, where dozens of journalists have been attacked, imprisoned, and forced to flee as the government has tightened its control following the repeal in 2019 of the region’s constitutional autonomy,” read the press note by CPJ.

Fahad Shah, the editor and founder of The Kashmir Walla, has been detained for 18 months and is on trial for terrorism over a 2011 opinion piece published by the outlet, while Sajad Gul, a trainee reporter with the website, has been held since January 2022 under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act.

When CPJ tried to access The Kashmir Walla’s website in India on Monday, the page showed a message saying, “The website has been blocked as per order of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology under IT Act, 2000,” the press freedom watchdog claimed.

Similarly, The Kashmir Walla’s Facebook page, which has 476,000 followers, said, “This content isn’t available at the moment” and its X page said, “@tkwmag’s account has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand.”

The global body also said that the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology, Ashwini Vaishnaw, did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.

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