The IPI global network expresses serious concern about the Indian government’s use of the IT Act, 2000 to block the news site and social media accounts of the Kashmir-based news outlet The Kashmir Walla from being accessed in India.
On August 19, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology blocked the website of The Kashmir Walla under the IT Act, 2000. The outlet’s Facebook page, with nearly half a million followers, and Twitter profile were also shut down in response to legal demands issued by the Ministry. According to a statement released by the staff of The Kashmir Walla, the outlet did not receive any prior notice or official order regarding the Ministry’s decision to block its website and social media accounts. The outlet has also received an eviction notice by the landlord of its office in Srinagar, according to the statement reviewed by IPI.
The Kashmir Walla, which described the latest decision of the government as “opaque censorship”, has been repeatedly targeted by the Indian authorities as part of an ongoing crackdown on independent journalism in Jammu and Kashmir. In January 2022, Sajad Gul, who worked briefly at The Kashmir Walla as a trainee reporter, was arrested under the Public Safety Act and remains imprisoned. In February 2022, Fahad Shah, the editor of The Kashmir Walla, was arrested for his reporting of a gunfight between government forces and militants. Since his initial arrest, multiple First Information Reports under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Public Safety Act have been registered against him. Shah has remained imprisoned for the past 18 months.
In April 2022, the State Investigation Agency raided the outlet’s office and Shah’s home in Srinagar for an investigation into an opinion piece published in 2011. During the raid, police confiscated the outlet’s equipment and documents and interrogated staff reporters. Since the raid, the outlet’s interim editor has been summoned and questioned by the SIA multiple times.
“India’s use of the IT law to block The Kashmir Walla without prior notice is a violation of both press freedom and due process and should be reversed”, IPI Director of Advocacy Amy Brouillette said. “Authorities have not provided any evidence to suggest that the reporting of The Kashmir Walla is a threat to India’s national security or to public order.”
She added: “We remain gravely concerned by the authorities’ application of national security and related laws to target journalism in Kashmir, including the continued imprisonment of Fahad Shah and Sajad Gul. India must allow independent media to operate in Kashmir.”
In May 2023, IPI published an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing concerns about the systematic dismantling of independent media in Jammu and Kashmir, including through arbitrary arrests of journalists and internet shutdowns, and urging the government to stop targeted attacks and harassment of independent journalists and media in Jammu and Kashmir. The environment for independent journalists in the region has sharply declined since the Modi government in August 2019 repealed Article 370 and 35a of India’s Constitution, which had granted Jammu and Kashmir significant autonomy.