Indian authorities have blocked access to the independent Kashmiri news outlet The Kashmir Walla, the Srinagar-based outlet says.
“On Saturday, August 19, we woke up to another deadly blow of finding access to our website and social media accounts blocked,” the website’s staff said in a statement on Sunday.
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The news outlet said its service provider confirmed the blockage, saying it had been carried out by India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology under the IT Act 2000 – a primary law enacted in October 2000 which deals with cybercrime and electronic commerce.
Social media users and Indian news outlets posted screenshots of a message saying: “The website has been blocked as per order of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology under IT Act, 2000.”
There was no immediate comment from the government.
The Kashmir Walla staff said access to the site’s account on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, had been blocked “in response to a legal demand” and that its Facebook page had been removed.
Its most recent post on X is from Saturday morning.
The Kashmir Walla staff said they had also received an eviction notice and had begun the process of leaving their office building in Indian-administered Kashmir.
“We have been served an eviction notice by the landlord of our office in Srinagar and are in process of evicting,” the statement said.
Statement: When we contacted The Kashmir Walla's server provider to ask why https://t.co/zniqt5p3zU was inaccessible, they informed us that our website has been blocked in India by the MEITY under the IT Act, 2000. pic.twitter.com/3FOwFEJwVU
— yashraj sharma (@yashjournals) August 20, 2023
Clampdown on Kashmiri journalists
The website’s founding editor, Fahad Shah, was arrested by Indian police under an “anti-terror” law last year. He was accused of “glorifying terrorism” and “spreading fake news”, amid an intensifying crackdown on press freedom in the Himalayan region.
Referring to Shah’s arrest in the staff statement, the news portal said: “The State Investigation Agency (SIA) raided our office and Shah’s home in Srinagar. During the raid, most of our gadgets were seized, reporters were interrogated, and all documents were scrutinised.”
“Since then, our interim editor has been summoned and questioned by the SIA multiple times. Shah remains imprisoned in this case in Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal jail – 300 kilometres [186 miles] away from home.”
Sajad Gul, a Kashmir Walla contributor, was arrested in relation to social media posts last January and remains in a prison in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh under the Public Safety Act.
A number of Kashmiri journalists have been arrested, questioned and investigated in relation to their work since India’s Hindu nationalist government scrapped the region’s special status in 2019.
The news portal said it was not aware of the “specifics” of why it has been blocked in India.
“We have not been served any notice nor is there any official order regarding these actions that is in the public domain so far,” it said.
The staff said the blockage was a case of “gut-wrenching censorship”.
In a post on X, Jammu and Kashmir’s former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said “one of the few portals that dared to speak truth to power” had been silenced.
DIGIPUB News India Foundation, a collective of Indian news organisations, said the closure of The Kashmir Walla without any prior warning was “yet another act of intimidation of journalists in Kashmir” and that journalists “live with the fear of being jailed for lengthy periods under stringent laws”.
“In this environment where they can no longer rely on individual liberties and freedoms guaranteed in the constitution, reporters have left the field,” the media body said.
DIGIPUB’s statement on the closure of The Kashmir Walla's website and social media accounts. pic.twitter.com/MZYRjNKKP0
— DIGIPUB News India Foundation (@DigipubIndia) August 21, 2023