Security officials cited “adverse reports” as grounds for preventing the journalists from entering Sher-i-Kashmir stadium, the site of the event, although they were duly accredited by the Jammu and Kashmir state authorities. No additional explanation was provided. One of India’s three national holidays, Republic Day of India marks the day that India’s constitution took effect in 1950.
Those barred included Agence France-Presse reporter Tausseef Mustafa, who told RSF: “I have attended dozens of such function without ever being barred before. All I can say is the security agencies are not letting us discharge our professional duties as journalists anymore.”
“This blatant press freedom violation is all the more shocking because it concerns a key Republic of India event involving the rule of law,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“This police-imposed ban has all the hallmarks of a measure designed to intimidate journalists who do not toe the Indian government line and are therefore being blacklisted. We urge the Jammu and Kashmir state authorities to shed light on this unacceptable decision and to end the surge in abuses affecting journalists in the Kashmir Valley.”
Some of the barred journalists work for international media such as Yusuf Jameel, Mehraj ud Din and Umer Mehraj of the Associated Press and Danish Ismail of Reuters. Others cover Kashmir for the Indian media such as Bilal Bhat of the Asian News International news agency and Ashraf Wani of Aaj Tak TV. And some work for regional outlets such as Habib Naqash and Amaan Farooq of the Greater Kashmir newspaper.
The Indian security services have been stepping up press freedom violations of late in Kashmir. As reported by RSF, police deliberately fired shotgun pellets at reporters last week, injuring four of them. Kashmir Narrator journalist Aasif Sultan has been held for more than five months on completely specious grounds. Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of the leading newspaper Rising Kashmir, was gunned down in Srinagar in June.
The plight of Kashmir’s journalists is one of the many reasons why India is ranked no better than 138th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.