The Jammu and Kashmir police on Saturday raided the printing press and offices of three leading dailies in Srinagar and seized all printed copies drawing protests from journalists and criticism on social media. Policemen also detained the staff and prevented the newspapers from publishing more copies, which was termed a direct attack on the freedom of press in the state.
Talking to The Wire, Shujaat Bukhari, editor of Rising Kashmir, one of the papers raided, said it was around 2-30 a.m. that a team of Jammu and Kashmir state police descended at the printing press of the newspaper at Sheikhpora (Budgam). “By that time we had printed about 25 per cent of our copies. We had an inkling that something was coming and had therefore dispatched this first batch by a vehicle to our office located in Press Enclave, Srinagar.”
The police personnel quickly learnt that the first batch had been sent out by a vehicle and took the five-six staff members present at the press with them in order to locate it. They finally caught up with the vehicle at the newspaper office and seized all the printed copies, said Bukhari.
The local media reported that among those who were detained by the police from the printing press was foreman Mohammad Yousuf, who was asked to identify the distribution site from where the newspaper was sent out. The driver of the vehicle, Irshad Khan, said he was caught at Press Enclave and asked by the police to follow them to the Humhama police post where the seized vehicle and the newpapers were kept.
Bukhari said the staff was later allowed to go. The newspaper editor said strangely neither did the police register a case, nor did they disclose the reason behind seizing the copies. “We could not publish any more copies as the printing press was locked after the raid. Even today we are working, but do not know if the police will raid us again or allow us to distribute our copies,” he said.
The offices of Kashmir press was also raided and copies its Urdu paper were seized. “Their English edition was yet to be published. They detained 2-3 staff members there as well and took away the plates which are used for printing the newspaper”
The police also raided the premises of Kashmir Times before the printing could start and took away the staff so that the newspaper could not come out with its edition, Bukhari added.
Kashmir Times staffers said that over 20 policemen had raided its office at Rangreth area in the outskirts of Srinagar around midnight and detained its printing press foreman Fayaz Ahmed and 10 other employees. “The policemen seized the metallic printing plates of Kashmir Times and more than 70,000 printed copies of Kashmir Times and closed down the K T Press Pvt Ltd printing press,” the newspaper said.
The paper’s staff alleged that cops “misbehaved with the employees present there and snatched their cell phones. The employees who tried to resist were beaten up.”
For Kashmiri journaliss, there is a sense of déjà vu, said Bukhari. “Even in 2008 when the stone pelting incidents happened and during the massive protests of 2010 there were at least about five to six days when the police had similarly raided our premises and seized the copies. This phenomenon is nothing new.”
A senior journalist, who has worked with national dailies too, Bukhari said he was planning to rally other media groups to lodge a formal protest about the incident. “The only problem is that there is a curfew and we cannot even step out.” However, he is venting his anger through the social media by attacking the government for trying to stifle the free functioning of the media.
He also tweeted the front page of the newspaper edition, which could not make it to the homes of the readers.
The action on newspapers is clearly part of a plan to curb news flow in the strife-torn state. Already mobile, internet and telephony services have been suspended across the Kashmir Valley, where violence broke out after the gunning down of militant commander Burhan Wani. So far, 43 people have lost their lives.
The government has already suspended mobile internet and telephony services across Kashmir valley.
At least 41 persons have died in Kashmir valley since July 9 when widespread protests and clashes which erupted after the killing of top militant commander Burhan Wani.
It is pertinent to point that in 2010 and 2013, valley based newspapers were not allowed to be published by placing severe restrictions on their movement and movement of their vehicles. The newspapers were seized and not allowed to be a circulated and media persons were not issued curfew passes.
Similar methods of intimidating and gagging the press have been employed by the government and its security agencies in the last two and a half decades.
In 2010, the central government arbitrarily stopped the release of DAVP advertisements of Kashmir Times and six other publications, following a letter circulated by the union home ministry to the department. Till date, Kashmir Times is the only newspaper which continues to be denied advertisements, which is the main source of revenue.