RSF calls for an end to social media ban in Kashmir

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Indian authorities to restore access to social media platforms in Kashmir, blocked since bloody protests in the region last month, and urges an end to threats against journalists and citizen-journalists.

The government banned 22 social media sites on 26 April, including Facebook and Twitter, saying they were being used to incite violence.

Since 8 April, eight people have been killed and more than 80 injured in scuffles between police and protesters. Against this background of widespread violence, journalists are often targeted. Our sources report that during one clash, a police officer told a journalist to stop filming or “I will break your bones and your cameras”.

Another journalist who was threatened with a gun said: "This is what they do with media personnel; it shows the sort of impunity police exercises in our state.

A third added: "As I took out my phone to capture the scene, a cop who was firing aerial shots charged towards me, asking me to not click any photographs or else he will shoot me down just there. Shocked at the sudden attack on me for discharging my professional duties, I handed over my phone to the cop.

Preventing journalists from reporting on events is not enough for the Indian authorities, who regularly cut Internet access and have done so since early April. Internet communications have been cut 28 times in five years, including a five-month blackout in 2016 after the death of separatist military commander, Burhan Wani.

The government has taken it to a new level this year. April was a particularly worrying time for freedom of information. On 8 April Internet access was cut for four days after a demonstration in which several people were killed.

Ten days later there were violent clashes again between student demonstrators and police, in which water cannon and tear gas were used and stones were thrown. Sixty-five students were injured.

After the protests, the government blocked the 3G and 4G phone networks and banned 22 social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, for a month. According to a government statement, social media were being “misused” by “elements inimical to public order and tranquillity”.

The order said: "… Continued misuse of social networking sites and instant messaging services is likely to be detrimental to the interests of peace and tranquillity in the state.

The Indian government and its police force remain a threat to basic freedoms in the region. In the past year, violence against journalists has been a cause of concern to press freedom organizations. In July last year, RSF condemned attacks on two journalists Muneeb Ul Islam and Mir Javid.

India is ranked 136th of 180 countries in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, two places lower than in 2016. This relatively minor fall can be explained by a reduction in the number of journalists’ deaths, while the level of threats and physical violence remains indisputably high.

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Updated on 23.08.2019