The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Authorities in India shut down newspapers in strife-torn Kashmir

Indian police clash with Kashmiri protesters in Srinagar on July 11. (Tauseef Mustafa/AFP via Getty Images)
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NEW DELHI — For the third day in a row, people in Indian-controlled, conflict-torn Kashmir did not get their newspapers because they have been banned.

The ban on newspapers came on top of the shutdown of cable TV operators and private cellphone service, actions imposed by the government as it struggles to control angry street protests against the killing of a popular leader of a terrorist group 10 days ago.

Newspaper editors are angry and are calling it a full-blown information war.

“This is information blockade. Newspapers are not a threat to peace. We are not parasites,” said Shujaat Bukhari, editor of the Rising Kashmir newspaper in Srinagar. “Newspapers are responsible institutions. We publish corroborated, verified news. In its absence, what are people relying on? This ban is not helping the situation at all here.”

Young Kashmiris attacked police to protest the killing of Burhan Wani, a gun-wielding, social-media-savvy insurgent. More than 33 people died and hundreds have been wounded in the clashes, the worst outbreak of bloody violence in six years in Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region claimed by both India and neighboring Pakistan.

On Saturday, security forces raided printing presses and seized copies of newspapers in the state.

The ban may last at least until Wednesday, a government official told editors.

“It is a temporary measure to address an extraordinary situation,” Education Minister Naeem Akhtar told the Indian Express newspaper. “In our opinion, there is an emotional lot, very young, out in the field, who get surcharged due to certain projections in the media, which results in multiplication of tragedies.”

“Kashmir gagged,” said the headline in the Indian Express newspaper on Sunday in New Delhi. On Sunday, the Indian Journalists Union said this was “unacceptable in a democracy.”

Newspapers in Kashmir are uploading a scaled-down version of their websites, Bukhari said.

As criticism rose against the government for mishandling an already volatile situation in Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told his colleagues that he was not happy with the media portrayal of Wani as a “hero.”

Modi is not the only one who is unhappy with the media in this battle for public opinion.

In a widely shared Facebook post Friday, Shah Faesal, a popular Kashmiri who had aced the exam in 2009 to become a bureaucrat, said he does not want to be dragged into media stories that pitted him against Wani as icons.

Accusing India’s national media of acting like a “sadistic propaganda machine,” Faesal wrote: “By juxtaposing my photos with the images of a slain militant commander, a section of national media has once again fallen back upon its conventional savagery that cashes on falsehoods, divides people and creates more hatred.”

Newspapers in Kashmir have stopped publishing during previous bouts of violence and curfew. But this is the first official ban on newspapers.

“They have acted in a crude and foolish manner this time,” said Ghulam Hassan Kaloo, editor of Mirror of Kashmir.

On Twitter, there was both support for and opposition to the ban on newspapers.

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