Srinagar: India’s premier investigating agency on Wednesday said it raided 10 locations in Kashmir, including the offices and residences of a journalist and two prominent activists, triggering concerns of a crackdown on information and a free press in the disputed region.
The National Investigation Agency said in a statement it searched the premises of Agence France-Presse’s Kashmir correspondent Parvaiz Bukhari, offices of rights activist Khurram Parvez and Parveena Ahanger, and the region’s leading daily Greater Kashmir, along with a non-profit group, and seized “several incriminating documents and electronic devices.”
The agency said it was investigating “non-profit groups and charitable trusts” that were collecting funds and using them for “carrying out secessionist and separatist activities” in the disputed region.
A police official privy to the raids said the investigators confiscated telephones, laptops and storage devices from journalist Bukhari and rights defender Parvez. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Parvez’s organization, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, has written scathing reports about brutality involving some of the hundreds of thousands of Indian troops in the region. It has highlighted the expansive powers granted to them which it says led to a culture of impunity and widespread rights abuse in the region.
Crackdown on dissent: Mehbooba Mufti
Former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti said the raids on activist Parvez and the Greater Kashmir office were “another example of the Government of India’s vicious crackdown on freedom of expression and dissent.”
The raids came days after Indian authorities sealed the office of an English daily, Kashmir Times, causing outrage from journalists and condemnation from global media watchdogs. Authorities said the office was sealed due to administrative reasons but journalists said the move aimed to throttle the free press.
Since August 2019, the Indian government has imposed overarching restrictions in the region which critics say has eroded press freedom. Several journalists have been arrested, beaten, harassed and sometimes even investigated under anti-terror laws. A controversial new media law gave the government more power to censure independent reporting.
The Kashmir Editors Guild in a statement Wednesday said it was concerned over the “mounting costs of being a journalist in Kashmir” and hoped the region’s media is “permitted to function without hassles and hurdles.”
Reporters Without Borders, a global media watchdog, in August said “press freedom violations by the Indian authorities in Kashmir is unworthy of a democracy.”