– WHISTLEBLOW FOR US –
SILENCING KASHMIR: The dangers to journalism in Pakistan Administered Kashmir
By whistleblowers/safenewsrooms.org team
Kashmir, a disputed region between nuclear-armed neighbors Pakistan and India has led to at least three wars between the two countries. It is considered as one of the most heavily militarized zones in the world.
This month, the U.N. launched its first report on human rights in both Indian-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
While it mainly focuses on abuses of the Indian military on the other side of the Line of Control (L.O.C), it also calls out to Pakistan to end its “misuse” of anti-terror legislation to persecute peaceful activists and quash dissent.
The report states that violations in Pakistan-administered Kashmir “are of a different calibre or magnitude”, while decrying restrictions on freedoms of expression and association.
To investigate how reporting is controlled in this part of the world, our team at safenewsrooms.org reached out to reporters from Pakistan-administered Kashmir and compiled this piece. The journalists wish to remain anonymous for safety and security concerns.
When it comes to reporting about military movements, presence and actions etc. the news organizations in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir region and in Pakistan do not run any information reported by journalists on the ground in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir area. Editors prefer reprinting press releases coming from Pakistan military headquarters in Rawalpindi, which may or may not be true. There have been times when the news has been quite significant (examples below) but despite that it has been ignored because the ISPR, the military’s media wing has not sent any confirmation on it.
Last year, in 2017, some Pakistan-administered Kashmiri locals were harassed and beaten up by military personnel working for the Frontier Works Organization (FWO), a Pakistan Army-run engineering and construction company. Social media helped raise the issue after which some local newspapers reported on the story but none of the mainstream newspapers or news channels reported the story.
No coverage is given to political groups working for the rights of Kashmiris, especially those who want independence from Pakistan and India. Such non-violent separatists’ events are blacked out by almost all Pakistani media. Just recently on March, 2018 a political rally by Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was organized in Poonch division. The participants were demanding a cease-fire between the two countries. The border between the two countries is always flared up, with dozens of military and civilian casualties piling up every few months, when things get heated. This protest was barely covered by the local media and not at all in the mainstream Pakistani media. Those outlets that covered it only showed it as a protest against India while blacking out the Pakistani part.
The censorship is not limited to political groups. The Pakistan-administered Kashmir government itself sometimes experiences muted coverage. The Pakistan Army recently harassed a journalist over his report in which he had quoted Farooq Haider, the current Prime Minister of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The PM had demanded the abolishment of the Jammu and Kashmir Council in Islamabad. The Council controls the region and the Pakistan-Administered Kashmir’s PM, the bureaucracy and the all other pillars of the state have to report to it. After publishing this report, the newspaper editor received a call from a military official and was threatened for printing the statement, which was a direct quote by the current PM of the region.
Another topic that has gotten absolutely no coverage in the media is the ever-expanding military cantonments in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir region. Locals have repeatedly been asked to leave their land across the region citing security concerns and have not been relocated, properly compensated and sometimes evicted by force. While locals are afraid to talk about it fearing backlash, the media also stays silent and does not report such land grabbing stories.
HOW REPORTERS ARE CONTROLLED AND THREATENED
Many journalists in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir region work without salaries as mainstream and local news organizations do not have budgets to pay them. Such volunteer work results in exploitation by the Pakistan Army, with reports of financial favors being given to journalists that not only report what the military wants, but also spy on other colleagues and perpetuate the environment of fear among the community of journalists in the region. Sometimes, these journalists connected to the military also send private conversations/posts in chat groups, or on social media to military personnel who then call reporters writing such content and threaten them into silence. Such military-linked journalists are also used to spy on politicians and political movements.
At the main press clubs of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, regular visits by intelligence officers in civilian clothing to manage press conferences of Kashmir jihadi leaders are a common sight. In such press conferences, questions to be asked are vetted by military intelligence officers.
Usually reporters are not even allowed to call such groups jihadis and are forced to self-censor. Such groups maybe referred to as political movements, or affectees of Indian-administered Kashmir, but never militants.
DIRECT INTIMIDATION ON THE RISE
Safenewsrooms.org received multiple complaints of different journalists about how military personnel threatens them but for their security their names have been withheld.
A journalist working for a leading Pakistani news TV channel has been harassed for years now. He does not get clearance to attend many important events affecting his work. Also, his children have been repeatedly expelled from local schools at the behest of powerful people to punish him for his independent views.
A journalist who wrote a book about the Kashmir dispute has faced threats ever since the book came out. The book now banned in the region argued in favor of independence of Kashmir.
Another reporter who lives close to the border zone is at times denied entry into his own neighborhood and he feels that the harassment is linked to his reporting about Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which he has been asked to stop and toe the military’s line. This journalist had repeatedly written reports about how Pakistan military abuses people living close to the border.
A newspaper in the Pakistan administered Kashmir region was shut down forcibly by cancelling its license around 22 months ago. The given reason was that the newspaper had violated the license policy, however the real reason was that the newspaper had published a survey recently conducted in the Kashmir valley stating that seventy-three percent (73%) of the citizens wanted independence. The newspapers office was sealed and the chief editor and publisher of the newspaper continues to face social isolation, financial issues and harassment at the hands of military. A journalist working at this newspaper also lost his other job with a mainstream Pakistani news organization and was told that it was being done due to pressure from certain quarters.
In conclusion, safenewsrooms.org findings reveal that journalists working in Pakistan administered Kashmir are facing an unannounced form of censorship and any story that may even slightly offend the military establishment is killed by editors, reporters and the news organizations.
If you have a similar account while working as a journalist in the Kashmir region or any part of South Asia, please reach out to us: firstname.lastname@example.org