TAWFEEQ IRSHAD MIR
When the founders of the Indian Constitution were drafting various provisions related to freedom of speech and expression, they did not mention “freedom of the press”. Dr Ambedkar later said that it was not necessary to mention it specifically as it was implicit in the guarantees of Freedom of Speech and Expression in Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. It seems the implicit constitutional guarantee has not been enough, as the freedom of the press in India has long been impeded by government restrictions throughout the 74 years of the country’s independence.
Freedom of the press is essential for political liberty and democracy but Article 19 (1) (a) has lost its meaning over the years. In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the number of attacks on journalists, both by police and unidentified gunmen. Further, many states in India have repressed freedom of expression by detaining a number of people on the flimsiest of charges. The best example is Kashmir, where government restrictions have put the press in a sorry state.
The latest incident in Kashmir of the State’s onslaught on freedom of expression and freedom of the press is the police charges against young photojournalist Masrat Zahra and seasoned journalist Peerzada Aashiq. These are only in a series of attacks on the press, of which some examples are:
October 13, 2018: Jammu and Kashmir Police barred reporters from covering local elections in certain polling stations in Srinagar, even though they were carrying an authorisation letter from the state election commission.
October 17, 2018: Jammu and Kashmir Police beat up at least six journalists covering a military operation against militants in Srinagar.
October 19, 2018: Three journalists working with Kashmir Walla–Saqib Mugloo, Kaiser Andrabi, and Bhat Burhan–were beaten outside their office and then picked up by the state police.
October 30, 2018: A videographer working with Zee News, Aijaz Ahmad Dar, was shot with pellets by security forces while he was covering a clash between protesters and security personnel in Shopian district.
French journalist and filmmaker Comiti Paul Edward, who was arrested last year in Kashmir, said that in his 25 years covering conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo, Israel and Palestine, he had “never felt like this way before”. “I almost felt like I was in North Korea. It was as if they had so much to hide that they just do not want any international media here,” he said.
The brutal murders of journalists Shujaat Bukhari and Gauri Lankesh are still fresh in our memory. The World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters without Borders mentions that journalists are increasingly targets of online smear campaigns and threats, while “Prosecutions are also used to gag journalists who are overly critical of the government.”
It is high time the government reassures journalists and comes out with a legislation providing protection to journalists. The onslaught of a repressive regime aims at every sphere of the oppressed peoples’ lives. It ruins the economy, savages culture, cripples industry, and corrupts intellect. It kills the oppressed nation in installments. However, the first target always is the press. This is accomplished with the help of collaborators. A group of people, open to temptation, ready to be corrupted, is identified and made to act as arms of oppression. The group comes up with a million false justifications in support of oppression and pretends to heal the wounds it has itself inflicted.
Speech is innate to all human beings and a precious gift from God to mankind. Communication is a fundamental social process, the foundation of all social organisation. Everyone everywhere should have the opportunity to participate in public discussion and to express their opinion. Freedom of expression, therefore, is a basic human right. It is, indeed, the first condition of liberty. It is said that freedom of speech is the mother of all other liberties. It must be safeguarded at all times. The first principle of a free society is the liberty to express opinions and ideas without hindrance, and especially without fear of punishment.
The freedom of speech and expression is also indispensable for the development of one’s own individuality.
The writer is Organising Member, Kashmir Law Circle. [email protected]