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Blaming the messenger no solution to Kashmir disturbances, says IFJ

(IFJ/IFEX) - 8 July 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply disturbed at the drastic erosion of the atmosphere for journalism, following month-long civil disturbances in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Cities in the Kashmir valley have been under curfew for a number of days since widespread demonstrations began in the region early in June. On July 7, as the army was summoned out of its barracks, the curfew was extended to cover the movement of all civilians, and word was put out that press passes would no longer be honoured.

The situation resulted in all Kashmir's media personnel being confined to home. Photographers and news cameramen in the capital, Srinagar, were assaulted as they sought to record the day's events. Some had their professional equipment confiscated by security agencies.

The day's incidents followed similar occurrences on July 6, when at least 12 photographers working for local, national and international media were assaulted in Srinagar and suffered injuries of various degrees of seriousness, as security forces sought to restrain them from recording ongoing demonstrations.

As the photo-journalists and news cameramen were attacked, senior police officers were heard remarking that without media attention the demonstrations would soon lose momentum.

Text-messaging services through the mobile phone network remain suspended in the entire Kashmir region. Voice telephone services are subject to frequent and unexplained disruption, especially in the northern Kashmir region.

"Targeting and blaming the messenger is not an appropriate response for official agencies in Kashmir as they seek to restore civic peace," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

On July 2, authorities in the region of Jammu sealed the premises of three publications on the grounds that they had allegedly carried false and misleading news reports that tended to aggravate tensions between religious communities. The following day, copies of Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Uzma, the leading newspapers in English and Urdu in the Kashmir valley, were seized as they were being readied for distribution.

"The IFJ urges authorities in Jammu and Kashmir to follow a policy of transparency and accountability rather than seek to throttle the flow of news, whether good or bad," Park said.

"The heavy-handed response seen so far creates an atmosphere where rumour and innuendo flourish, further embittering civic relations."

The IFJ extends its support to the media community of the state, gathered on the platform of the Press Guild of Kashmir, which has strongly denounced the curbs imposed on media by state authorities and the use of force against media personnel.
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