With Kashmir on its eighty-eighth day on unrest, the situation in the valley far from normal, it was yet another hectic day in the Kashmir Reader newsroom on October 2. In the evening, five policemen entered its office, armed with an order issued by the district magistrate (DM) of Srinagar, Farooq Lone. The newsroom staff was told to stop work immediately. The order, a copy of which is in possession with Newslaundry, reads, “On the basis of credible inputs it has been observed that the daily newspaper namely Kashmir Reader published within the territorial jurisdiction of district Srinagar contains such material and content which tends to incite acts of violence and disturb peace and tranquility.”
In the two-page order issued by the DM, the language is repetitive and talks about “content which tends to incite violence” but makes no mention of a specific story or instance.
The penultimate paragraph of the orders reads, “Therefore, I, District Magistrate, Srinagar, do hereby direct the Printer, Publisher and Owner of Daily Kashmir Reader to abstain from printing and publishing of the news paper namely ‘Kashmir Reader’ till further orders so that disturbance of public tranquility prevented.”
The order concludes with a warning that failure to comply would result in a forfeiture of the printing press and other properties under Section Three of the News Papers Incitement of Offence Act, 1971 and section 10 of the Press and Publication Act, 1989.
Seizing of printing plates, confiscating newspapers and gag orders are not new in Kashmir, but it is reportedly the first time a written order from the state has been issued shutting down a newspaper. Mir said that before they received the order, it had already been issued to the 10 printers that printed the paper. “We were working on a report today, based on information that the troops have raided and damaged some houses in South Kashmir, when this order was delivered to us,” he said.
The order to shutdown KR is a rare event even in a place where the state powers have routinely muffled the voice of the media. Mir, with 16 years of experience in journalism , told us, “Even in ’90s, when insurgency was at peak in the Valley, the state machinery never clamped down on publication of a newspaper. This is for the first time the state government has officially banned a broadsheet newspaper.”
Riyaz Wani, a journalist for Tehelka, described the relatively-new KR as “fiercely anti-establishment,” with an emphasis on “highlighting the human rights excesses” in the state.
Local media in Kashmir has strongly condemned the arbitrary action of the DM in shutting down the KR. “In a way we are happy. The government is finally out in open with its devious ways by clamping down on Kashmir Reader,” said Sajjad Haider, the editor-in-chief of the Kashmir Observer.
On the hazards of running a newspaper in the Valley, Haider said, “We work in perpetual threat. Everyday is a challenge to bring out newspaper.” He said that this was the first time since the Emergency that the government has openly asked a publication to shutdown. “It is good that now the entire world will know how vindictive is the state and Indian government against the free press in Kashmir.”
An editor, on condition of anonymity, told Newslaundry that there are a few newspapers in the Valley that are believed to have the backing of separatist leaders. “These organisations are not dependent on the state government for revenue, so their operation is smooth as compared to newspapers whose primary revenue comes from the state government advertisements,” he said.
Haider echoed the same sentiment. “It is more than eight months that the state government hasn’t released the advertisement amount to our paper. Last three months, employees have been not paid. Just because we ain’t on the right side of the government,” he said.
Meanwhile, the #StandForPressFreedom hashtag is already trending in support of the KR. Its readers are equally upset at the DM’s action. One has written in the comment section of the paper’s website: “I salute the Kashmir Reader team for being impartial in publishing the news related to current uprising. It is an irony that the government could not digest the truth and factual news carried out by professionals abiding all the rules and regulations.”
Newslaundry tried to contact Lone, but he was not available for comment.
The author can be contacted on Twitter @anurag999