The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to urgently list a petition filed by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of Kashmir Times against the information blackout and restrictions imposed on media freedom during the Centre’s “unilateral” move to impose curfew and unravel the unique federal structure of India by dividing Jammu and Kashmir “without taking consent from the people”.
A Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra acknowledged the urgent nature of the issue raised by Ms. Bhasin, represented by senior lawyer Vrinda Grover. It asked the lawyer to give the details of the petition to the Register.
The mentioning came on a day when the Bench is scheduled to hear a similar petition filed by activist Tehseen Poonawalla.
Ms. Bhasin’s newspaper is published from Jammu and Srinagar. The petition said the Centre should relax its restrictions and allow journalists “to practise their profession and exercise their right to report freely on the situation prevailing in J&K after clampdown on entire State on August 4, 2019”.
She described the ground situation as that of “absolute and complete internet and telecommunication shutdown, severe restrictions on mobility and sweeping curtailment on information-sharing in the Kashmir Valley, at a time when significant political and constitutional changes are being undertaken in Delhi to the status of J&K”.
‘Anxiety, panic among residents’
Ms. Bhasin said the information blackout was “fuelling anxiety, panic, alarm, insecurity and fear among the residents of Kashmir”.
The severe curbs on the movement of photo journalists and reporters should be immediately relaxed in order to ensure the freedom of the press and media. Restrictions were curbing the rights of journalists under the provisions of Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution and the right to know the conditions of residents of Kashmir Valley, she said.
“From August 4, 2019 onwards, mobile phone networks, internet services, and landline phone connectivity were all discontinued and shut down, leaving Kashmir and some districts in Jammu completely isolated and cut off from all possible modes of communication and information. The communication blockade and strict restrictions on movement of journalists resulted in a virtual blackout, and media reporting and publishing is grievously impacted,” she submitted.