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Curfew lifted; crisis period has taken heavy toll on press freedom

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders voices full solidarity with journalists in Indian Kashmir, who have undergone one of the worst periods in decades since the outbreak of protests in early August 2008. The press freedom violations have taken a heavy toll, with a cameraman killed, more than 30 journalists beaten by security forces, local TV stations censored and newspapers unable to publish normally because of a curfew.

"The government in New Delhi cannot continue to ignore the fact that the press in Kashmir has been subject to a state of exception that violates the Indian constitution," Reporters Without Borders said. "We call on it to react quickly to ensure that the violence stops, that the censorship is completely lifted and that the local media are given full guarantees. The police violence in which a cameraman was killed and at least 32 journalists were injured must also be investigated."

Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to carry out a thorough investigation into the death of local TV cameraman Javed Ahmed Mir, 35, who was shot while covering a demonstration near Bagh-e-Mehtab on 13 August. According to the BBC, as well as being a cameraman, he was also a textile worker to help support his wife and three children.

The curfew imposed on 24 August was lifted on 2 September after a political agreement was reached about the Amarnath land transfer dispute, which triggered the violent demonstrations. A return to normal should allow the local media to resume operations.

But the toll was very heavy. The inhabitants of Kashmir, especially those in the Srinagar region, were deprived of local and national dailies for a week, while local TV stations were forbidden to report news. Some cable TV operators stopped carrying national and international news channels to protest the censorship. Many people also complained about disruption of their mobile phone texting services.

At least 32 journalists have been beaten by members of the security forces since the start of the demonstrations and at least 10 of them were hospitalised. Three journalists - Aaj Tak TV bureau chief Ashraf Wani, NDTV cameraman Amir Bhat and "Daily News Analysis" correspondent Ishfaq-ul-Hassan - were attacked by demonstrators.

According to a press release published by a group of Kashmiri journalists, there are strong grounds for suspecting that the local and national authorities made no attempt to prevent the violence against the press.

"When the governor, N. N. Vohra, was informed about these attacks, he pleaded ignorance and, in presence of some members of press and the secretary of information, instructed the Director General of Police not to let such attacks continue," the release said. "However, to present just one instance, the attacks continued the next day, confirming our suspicion that the attacks are carried out by design."

Members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which is under the control of the government in New Delhi, were responsible for most of the police violence. It was CRPF members, for example, who beat Asif Qureshi of Star News on 25 August, and Showkat Ahmed, the "Rising Kashmir" daily newspaper's system administrator, when he was on the streets with a pass on 31 August.

Updates alert on media restrictions resulting from the curfew: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/96657

For further information on the Ahmed Mir case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/96651

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