By Saima Afzal
Freedom of press is considered as an essential component and fourth pillar of a liberal and democratic state that is constitutionally protected by almost all independent states. Being a pillar of democracy, press must be fair, impartial, and provide the facts without fear. Unfortunately, media is confronted with numerous challenges to its very own function to give credible information. Press freedom has been deteriorating around the world over the past decade. In some of the most influential democracies in the world, populist leaders have overseen concerted attempts to throttle the independence of the media sector. The attack on press freedom in democratic states is alarming.
India being a largest democratic state is using various strategies to intimidate and harass the journalists in mainland India and IIOJK. The victimization of media persons increased since India revoked the IIOJK’s semi-autonomy in 2019, throwing Kashmir under a severe security and communication lockdown and the media in a black hole. However, India is targeting the Kashmiris journalists to hide ground realities of IIOJK from the world. Journalists have long contended with various threats in Indian-controlled Kashmir and found themselves caught between warring sides. But their situation has gotten dramatically worse a year later, the government’s new media policy sought to control the press more effectively to censure independent reporting. Dozens have been arrested, interrogated and investigated under harsh anti-terror laws. Press freedom is facing severe challenges in India because the government control the media.
Under the leadership of BJP led Modi government, press freedoms have gradually shrunk in India since he was first elected in 2014. Though, after taking office as a Prime Minister Modi said that “democracy will not sustain if we can’t guarantee freedom of speech and expression “.After eight years under Modi India’s democracy looks diminished due to persistent attacks on the freedom of the press. In the global press freedom index by media watchdog Reporters without Borders 2021, India was ranked 142nd even lower to Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. The main reason for categorizing India as “bad” for journalism and among dangerous countries for journalists is Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva ideology which created an environment of intimidation for journalists who are critical of the government by labeling them as “anti-national” or “anti-state”.
According to a study by Geeta Seshu for the Free Speech Collective Contemporary, India has become unsafe for Journalists and sixty-seven journalists were arrested and nearly 200 physically attacked in 2020. Kashmiri journalist, Aasif Sultan was arrested in August 2018 under draconian law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for doing his journalistic work. Asif Sultan, who was granted bail once again has been booked under another black law, Public Safety Act (PSA) and shifted to Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu. Prominent Kashmiri journalists like Fahad Shah, Sajjad Gul, Manan Gulzar and others are facings detentions under draconian laws. However, the victimization of journalists in IIOJK has increased since Aug 5, 2019 when the Modi-led fascist Indian government repealed Kashmir’s special status and imposed military siege in the territory. Contemporary, the journalists not only in the occupied territory but also in India face killings, murder attempts, arrests and threats on regular basis. A number of journalists have been killed and scores injured since 1989 in IIOJK. India has made independent journalism almost impossible in IIOJK after introducing so-called media policy in 2020.
Therefore, Article 19(1) (a) of Indian Constitution says that all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression. But freedom of expression is absolute in India. India not only violate its constitution but also international conventions on freedom of expression like Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The safety of the media has come under threat and as the space for free expression shrinks, both online and in traditional media, journalists are forced to adapt to this environment. The lack of accountability for crimes against the media, the new fronts of creating rules for monitoring content and the aggressive methods of silencing dissent, create an environment of fear and censorship. The International community must come forward to rescue independent media in the occupied territory and India. India must also be pressurized to allow media to operate freely in the country because democracy only flourish with the free, impartial and independent media.
* The writer is an Islamabad based analyst and can be reached at [email protected].