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Modi’s Final Assault on India’s Press Freedom Has Begun

On the evening of Oct. 19, 2020, as reporters and photographers for The Kashmir Times rushed to meet deadlines, government officials and the police swept into the newspaper’s offices in the city of Srinagar, chased out the staff and put a lock on the door that remains to this day. To me, the raid was punishment for daring to question the policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. The newspaper, for which I am the executive editor, has been an independent voice in the state of Jammu and Kashmir since it was founded by my father in 1954, weathering several tumultuous decades of war and military occupation. But it may not survive Mr. Modi. His repressive media policies are destroying Kashmiri journalism, intimidating media outlets into serving as government mouthpieces and creating an information vacuum in our region of about 13 million people. Now Mr. Modi is taking steps that could replicate this disturbing model on a national scale. His Hindu-chauvinist movement, which has normalized intolerance and violence against Indian Muslims, has already put severe pressure on India’s once-rambunctious press, with journalists surveilled and jailed and the government using strong-arm tactics against media outlets to ensure favorable coverage. But in January, draft amendments to digital media guidelines were introduced that would essentially allow the government to block any content it doesn’t like. In other words, the rest of India may end up looking a lot like Kashmir. In 2019, Mr. Modi’s government abruptly revoked Kashmir’s autonomous status without public input from the territory’s people, sent in thousands of troops and shut down internet access. The shutdown lasted nearly six months, forcing hundreds of journalists to line up for hours to file their stories via a single designated site that had internet access. Each had 15 minutes to do so. Internet speeds have been excruciatingly slow since.

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