India government blocks Kashmir news site 1 year after founder’s arrest News
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India government blocks Kashmir news site 1 year after founder’s arrest

Indian authorities on Saturday barred access to The Kashmir Walla, one of the last surviving independent news outlets operating within the volatile region of Indian-administered Kashmir. This action, undertaken without prior notice, has been deemed a “deadly blow” by the news portal, highlighting an escalating crackdown on press freedom since the region’s autonomy was revoked in 2019.

Beyond the website, this censorship extends to The Kashmir Walla’s Facebook and X [Twitter] accounts. Simultaneously, the detention of Founder-Editor Fahad Shah in 2022, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Public Safety Act, along with the incarceration of former trainee reporter Sajad Gul, further underscores this concerning development. The news outlet’s staff characterizes this latest development as “gut-wrenching censorship,” adding that there’s “not a lot to say anymore.’

Elaborating, Interim Editor Yashraj Sharma shared, “When we contacted our server provider on Saturday morning to ask why was inaccessible, they informed us that our website has been blocked in India by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology under the Information Technology Act, 2000.” While the specific IT Act section remains unmentioned, it is common for authorities to cite Section 69A for website censorship. Notably, this section mandates sending notifications to individuals facing complaints, affording them an opportunity to present clarifications – a procedural step absent in The Kashmir Walla’s case.

Adding to the complexity, The Kashmir Walla disclosed receiving an eviction notice, initiating the process of vacating their Srinagar office premises. The statement emphasized, “We are not aware of the specifics of why our website has been blocked in India; why our Facebook has been removed page; and why our Twitter [X] has been withheld. We have not been served any notice nor is there any official order regarding these actions that is in the public domain so far.” Former Kashmir Walla contributors expressed profound concern, terming this move a ‘direct attack’ on voices challenging the narrative advanced by the Hindu-majority BJP in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir region.

The DIGIPUB News India Foundation, a consortium representing Indian news organizations, has swiftly condemned the unannounced closure of The Kashmir Walla as “yet another instance of journalists facing intimidation in Kashmir.” Beh Lih Yi, Asia program coordinator for CPJ, emphasized that India’s democratic standing is contingent on promptly restoring The Kashmir Walla’s digital presence and ending the “persecution, harassment, and arrest of journalists in Kashmir.”