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With Kashmir Lockdown, India Violates Freedom Of The Press, Advocates Say


The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has gone without phone or Internet connections for more than a month now. The Indian government cut services in August after it revoked the state's autonomy. It didn't want protesters to organize. The lockdown has also been hard on journalists, but some are finding creative workarounds. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Mumbai.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Bilal is a freelance journalist who's been flying in and out of Kashmir for weeks. He's now packing his bag for another reporting trip back to Srinagar, Kashmir's biggest city.

BILAL: I have a pretty basic power bank, an audio recorder, my hard drives, cables, my notepads.

FRAYER: He also packs his cell phone, but it's useless in Kashmir.

BILAL: We use it to check the time. We use it as a contact book - anything except for making a call.

FRAYER: Landlines in Kashmir have been restored. Most cell phone service and Internet remains blocked, though, except for at a government press center with five computers for hundreds of journalists. Internet there is very slow, so journalists are finding other ways to get the news out. They ask airline passengers to carry USB sticks out. In Bilal's case, he flies out himself just to file a story. We're not broadcasting Bilal's full name because he's worried authorities might try to stop him from reporting.

ANURADHA BHASIN: They feel very intimidated. They're working under a lot of pressure.

FRAYER: Anuradha Bhasin is executive editor of the Kashmir Times, which has not been able to print its Srinagar edition since August 5. Curfews mean her workers can't reach the printing presses, which typically operate at night. Bhasin filed a petition to India's Supreme Court, arguing that the lockdown violates freedom of the press. The court has delayed a hearing until October. The Indian government has also blocked foreign journalists, including NPR, from traveling to Kashmir. So, Bhasin says...

BHASIN: What is appearing in the press worldwide is maybe a very small glimpse.

FRAYER: A very small glimpse of the protests, clashes and thousands of arrests being reported by Kashmiri journalists - some of them say they, too, have been detained and beaten up by police, who also forced them to erase footage from their devices.

ALIYA IFTIKHAR: Given that this is the world's largest democracy, that's extremely concerning.

FRAYER: Aliya Iftikhar with the Committee to Protect Journalists is worried about press freedom across India.

IFTIKHAR: We have seen attacks against journalists, a lot of legal cases filed against journalists. These are all forms of harassment and intimidation.

FRAYER: One person who felt that recently is journalist Gowhar Geelani, author of a new book about conflict in Kashmir. He was on his way to a training course in Germany 10 days ago when authorities stopped him at Delhi's airport.

GOWHAR GEELANI: So there at the immigration counter, what happened was, after looking at my passport and other documents related to my training program, the immigration officer looked at his screen and gave a smile and said, you have to wait.

FRAYER: Geelani's flight ended up leaving without him. He got a hotel room near the airport, hoping to get on a flight the next day, but immigration officers ultimately told him he is blocked from traveling because of the political situation in Kashmir. The government has not responded to requests for comment about his case.

Like Geelani, many Kashmiri journalists hoped for a quick resolution to this crisis, but five weeks on, it remains difficult for them to do their jobs, and they increasingly worry about retaliation.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.