Days after over 20 journalists in Kashmir purportedly received anonymous online threats allegedly issued by The Resistance Front (TRF), a shadow outfit of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the media in the Valley remains in the grip of panic. While many journalists have gone into hiding, others have temporarily left Kashmir in search of a safe haven, Kashmir InFocus has learnt.
Many took to social media to announce their dissociation from the media houses.
On Monday, Yasrab Khan, who identified himself as an ANN “cameraman”, also announced his resignation on social media.
In a statement Friday, the Editors Guild of India condemned the purported threat to journalists, comparing the present situation in the Kashmir Valley to that during the militancy of the 1990s.
“Journalists in Kashmir now find themselves in the firing line from both the state authorities as well as terrorists, in what is a throwback to the years of heightened militancy in the 1990s,” the statement read.
We on Monday met some of the journalists whose names were part of the list, but most were too scared to be named.
“I am not scared of the threats at all, but I am careful. I have done nothing wrong, so why should I be scared?” one of the journalists named in the online threat told Kashmir InFocus.
Claiming that his name had featured on such lists in the past as well, he added: “I have been careful since 2019, because I knew things were going to turn bad (following the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir). The time is such that I don’t even tell my wife where I am going. Abhi mohol bohot kharab chal raha hai (At present, the situation is bad). And it is turning worse day by day.”
He further alleged that while journalists are troubled by the administration (if their coverage is perceived to be against the authority), such organisations (terror groups) also create problems for them.
Meanwhile, the Jammu & Kashmir Police on 12 November registered a case against “handlers, active terrorists & OGWs (Over Ground Workers) of terror outfit LeT & its offshoot TRF for online publication & dissemination of a direct threat letter to Journalists & reporters based in Kashmir”.
About a week later, on 19 November, “massive searches” were carried out by the police at various locations across Srinagar, Anantnag and Kulgam, in connection with the case.
“The threats originated in Pakistan with some inputs from here. We are also looking at people who were once affiliated with these (news) organisations. A total of 12 locations were searched,” Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Srinagar, Rakesh Balwal told Kashmir InFocus Tuesday.
He added that three of the 12 locations searched were linked to alleged TRF operatives Basit Dhar, Momin Gulzar and Sajjad Gul (who operates from Pakistan).
“Sajjad Gul drafts these lists and TRF posters. Apart from that, Mukhtar Baba’s (a former journalist from Kashmir) role also came up. He has helped in preparing this list. Other eight were suspects who might have had some role in the threats,” Balwal said.
On the issue of providing security to journalists, the SSP said it was done in offices and residences where they deemed it necessary. Personal security officers have also been provided to some media personnel, he added.
Earlier this month, the threat was issued against “pseudo-journalists”, and “traitors and stooges” which was issued on a blog, believed to be operated from Pakistan. “Many credible voices have been silenced and fake voices have been groomed in the last few years,” it had claimed, adding that “their time/fate is sealed”.
‘Don’t know who is actually militant’
This is, however, not the first time that the media in Kashmir has faced tough times.
In January, the J&K administration closed down the Kashmir Press Club and took over its control in Srinagar over a “potential law and order situation”. The move came days after the re-registration of the club was put on hold.
The Editors Guild of India has in the past condemned the arrest of several journalists from Kashmir, including that of Fahad Shah (editor-in-chief, Kashmir Walla) in February. In 2020, the Guild expressed “shock and concern” about police action against Masrat Zahra (freelance photojournalist), charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and Peerzada Ashiq (senior journalist of The Hindu), against whom an FIR was registered.
In 2018, the media in Kashmir was shaken by the broad daylight killing of Rising Kashmir editor-in-chief Shujaat Bukhari in Srinagar.
“The situation now is worse than in the 1990s. You don’t know who is actually the militant,” said Tariq Bhat, editor-in-chief, ANN News, who was among those mentioned in the online threat.
Bhatt who was repeatedly threatened by TRF and LeT since 2019 — the year the ANN came into existence — has been provided security by the government.
According to Bhat, what is missing today from Kashmir is the “healing touch”. “Hard policies are important, but so are healing ones. But the healing touch has finished,” he asserted.
Given the present circumstances, a senior mediaperson told Kashmir InFocus, it had become a daily fight with his family to continue working as a journalist.
The journalist, who was mentioned in the recent purported threat, claimed he was named in many such instances earlier and alleged that many of the lists were “fake”.
“Many times what happens is that the journalists make up a list themselves. They want security and they make a list. Every time profiling should be done before providing security to any of them,” he said.
According to him, a journalist perceived as ‘anti-national’ face trouble from security agencies. “If you say there are no roads, there is corruption — that is not ‘anti-national’. But if you are in India and call Kashmir a conflict zone, then you are ‘anti-national’,” he explained.
One of the media owners named in the list told Kashmir InFocus that he was planning to close his organisation, but was advised against it, owing to the number of employees. He added that the government has also told him that no one should resign after the threats.