Police raided the offices of major newspapers in Srinagar early on Saturday, seizing tens of thousands of copies and shutting down a major printing press in an unprecedented crackdown on print media following widespread violence in Kashmir.
Police barged into the offices of Kashmir’s largest-circulating English newspaper Greater Kashmir around midnight and asked the employees to stop printing. Online posts by the newspaper said three of its employees were arrested and more than 50,000 copies of its sister Urdu concern – Kashmir Uzma – were seized.
Authorities also took away the printing plates of the English newspaper but the e-paper had already been uploaded. The paper said police misbehaved with employees.
Raja Mohi ud Din, the owner of KT Press, said his press was also shut down.
“Police seized newspaper copies in thousands besides printing material and plates of a few newspapers,” he said. KT press prints eight newspapers in the Valley.
Authorities also took away copies of leading daily Rising Kashmir, and Urdu dailies Srinagar Times and Aftab.
This is the first time authorities have imposed such a gag on newspapers following week-long violence across south Kashmir.
Tens of thousands of people clashed with security forces after top militant Burhan Wani was killed, resulting in the deaths of 40 people and injuries to more than 1,300 people. The mounting injuries – especially by pellet guns -- have triggered allegations of excesses by police, who have rejected the accusations.
Experts said the authorities didn’t take such drastic steps even during the street protests in 2008 and 2010, when more than 100 people were killed. “The government would seize copies but not seal presses However the curfew was so strict that newspapers could not publish for days ,’’ said senior journalist Sheikh Mushtaq.
But he pointed out that the previous bouts of violence were different from the current clashes because the earlier episodes centred around allegations of human rights violations while the present agitation was in solidarity with Wani.
“It is anger that has got a trigger. Things were building up for a long time, PDP’s coming together with BJP, Sainik colony, separate colonies for Pandits, all let to the build up,’’ said Mushtaq, former Reuters bureau chief in Kashmir.
The newspaper gag is part of a broader clamp down as authorities fear an escalation in violence. Mobile internet services have been snapped in the Valley since July 8, when Wani was killed in an encounter with security forces.
On Thursday, phone services of all private telecom operators were disconnected. Cable networks have been asked to stop operations.
Strict curfew is in place in the entire Valley and likely to continue. Separatists have extended their call of a shutdown by three more days as residents run out of supplies.
“The restrictions are a reminder of the street agitation of 2010. We have been forced to stay indoors, we don’t get even milk for children, the small time local groceries are also drying up,’’ said Shabir Ahmad, a resident of downtown Srinagar.
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.
“Hurriyat leadership and Kashmiris are thankful to the government and people of Pakistan for their unflinching support for the freedom struggle of Kashmiris,” the joint statement read.
“We welcome the call from the government of Pakistan to observe 19th July as Black Day to apprise the world about the ongoing genocide of Kashmiris by Indian forces and to aware them about the struggle of Kashmiris for right to self determination.”