Authorities on Saturday banned newspaper publication in Kashmir for three days after police raided media houses and shut down a major printing press in what is being seen as the most sweeping information blackout in the valley rocked by violence.
“The undesirable step was taken to ensure peace,” government spokesman Nayeem Akhtar said.
The gag on print media followed the worst violence in the restive valley in six years that has left at least 41 people dead and scores wounded in clashes between security forces and protesters angry over the killing of top militant leader Burhan Wani.
Mobile and internet services are already blocked in the valley where curfew was extended to the eight day on Saturday. Cable TV was also blocked but was restored on Saturday evening.
“Pakistan has given (a) black day call. There is an attempt to subvert peace, it is an unusual situation so we were forced to take such an undesirable step,” Akhtar said. Pakistan on Friday said it will observe July 19 as a “black day” to protest what it said was killing of innocent people in Jammu and Kashmir by Indian troops.
Akhtar added the step was taken “to save lives and strengthen peace efforts”.
Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of the Srinagar-based Rising Kashmir whose printing press was raided around midnight on Friday , said the ban order was conveyed verbally to editors by a government official.
In a statement, newspaper editors quoted the government official as saying that the ban “is in view of apprehensions of serious trouble in Kashmir valley in the next three days aimed at subverting peace…strict curfew will be imposed and movement of newspaper staff and distribution of newspapers will not be possible”.
Terming the ban a “press emergency”, Bukhari said that such steps were not taken during the violent streets protests in 2008 and 2010.
“There was gag then also but today for the first time they have formally asked us not to publish,” he added.
“The government doesn’t want the public to know the ground situation. We will publish online but with a ban on internet, who will it reach.”
“Around 2 am, the press was raided…The police asked us to stop printing, took away our plates. About 10,000 copies of the urdu daily Uzma were already printed. Police arrested three of our employees and took away the printed copies, plates and even the newsprint,” said Rashid Makdoomi, printer-publisher of Greater Kashmir, the largest circulated daily in the valley. The three employees were released in the morning.
Raja Mohi ud Din, the owner of KT Press, said that his press was also seized. KT Press prints around eight newspapers in the valley.
“The police have seized newspaper copies which were printed in thousands besides printing material and printing plates of a few newspapers which were ready.”
Hawkers in the Lal Chowk, the city’s centre, alleged that police did not allow them to distribute the newspapers and seized their copies.
Journalists held a protest on Residency Road near Press Colony against the clampdown on media.
Separatists, meanwhile, extended their call of a shutdown by three more days as residents run out of supplies.
In a joint statement issued from Hyderpora, the Hurriyat Conference leadership said they have no option but to announce a shutdown call amid relentless curbs. The separatists also thanked Pakistan for their support.
Protesters in the past week have torched police stations and armoured vehicles, and hurled stones at military camps in the restive territory where an estimated eight lakh Indian troops, deeply resented by locals, are stationed.
More than 1,800 people have been injured, including around 200 police, while hospitals have struggled to cope with the rush of injured protesters.
Hundreds have bullet wounds including many who suffered severe eye injuries caused by shotgun pellets fired by the police.
The violence is the worst since 2010 when huge rallies were crushed, leaving 120 dead.