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Pakistan-based terror group puts 76 Kashmir journalists on hit list 

Photo for representation

Srinagar: The Resistance Front (TRF), which according to the Jammu and Kashmir Police is a front for the Pakistan-based designated global terror organisation Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), has purportedly named as many as 32 Srinagar-based mediapersons as “paid agents and collaborators” of different Indian police, security and intelligence agencies. It has claimed to have compiled a hit list of 76 Kashmiri journalists.

Yet another list of 12 Kashmiri journalists, including 10 who are commonly known as supporters and sympathisers of the militants, separatists and Pakistan, has also been issued on the same banner and format but quickly denied by the TRF on its media propaganda platform KashmirFight.com which stands banned in India. They too have been labelled as “traitors, agents, stooges and collaborators” of the Indian security forces and Police.

These three virtual hit lists, which came out after a pause of two years, have obviously spread a wave of fear not only among the mediapersons named by the group but also in the entire media fraternity across the Kashmir valley. The Srinagar District Police have, as usual, registered an FIR against anonymous persons and their ‘handlers’ in Pakistan under different provisions of the Indian Penal Code and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. According to some reports, about a dozen ‘suspects’ have been interrogated and at least 5 of them are currently in the Police custody.

Some national TV channels on Thursday claimed that the ‘hit list’ of the 22 mediapersons had been prepared by one Mukhtar Baba of Srinagar who has been based in Turkey since long. According to these reports, Baba had received the names of the ‘traitorous journalists’ from his Srinagar-based contacts including some journalists known for their anti-India and pro-Pakistan rant. Baba, these reports said, was an operative of the terror outfit Hizbullah and had been arrested and subsequently released in 1990-91.

Baba is reported to have settled in Turkey with the help of a German-American woman Carin Jodha Fischer who was expelled from India after staying in Kashmir for about 10 years as a confidant of the PDP President Mehbooba Mufti in 2018. According to a DisinfoLab report, Fischer has been working with the ISI and taking $7,000 per month in the name of her two firms.

However, neither the J&K Police nor the Indian intelligence agencies have been able to submit a concrete proof of the criminal activities of Fischer or her ‘Kashmir contacts’ to the American authorities. Officials in the J&K Police claim to have identified 6 of Fischer’s ‘Kashmir contacts’ with the help of human intelligence and electronic evidence. They claim that all her ‘Kashmir contacts’ in the media would be rounded up and interrogated soon.

Until now, at least 5 of the mediapersons named in the three hit lists have announced their resignation from their respective organisations. Even as the names of around 40 Kashmiri journalists working with different media organisations had been mentioned in the KashmirFight.com blog in 2018-20, this time around the onslaught seems to be directed on three particular establishments—valley’s largest-circulated English language daily Greater Kashmir (GK), slain journalist Shujaat Bukhari’s Rising Kashmir (RK) and Tariq Bhat’s Asia News Network (ANN).

The ANN, on Facebook and YouTube, has emerged as a strong pro-Indian and anti-terrorist news channel operating from Srinagar in the last 5 years. As regards the two widely circulated dailies, a common impression in the valley is that Pakistan, separatists and militants used them—and many other Kashmir-based newspapers—to carry out their propaganda for 12 to 24 years. After abrogation of Article 370, the Union Territory government stopped paid advertisements to most of the dailies and weeklies, including GK. Over the last two years, the UT Government has released advertisements and this way established total control on both these newspapers.

For the first time since the outbreak of the separatist movement in 1989, these representative dailies published in Srinagar are referring to the militants as ‘terrorists.’

This is in total contrast to 1990-2018 when the local media would routinely glorify violence, call the militants as ‘mujahids’, ‘freedom fighters’ and ‘rebels’ and hide and condone their acts of terror against the helpless civilians. Spreading hatred against India, discrediting the country’s systems and institutions and demonising the Police and security forces was sustained as a routine with the permission of the successive governments in J&K for about 20 years.

In the fast changing media scenario, most of the journalists promoting the Pakistani narrative have either lost their jobs or muted themselves for fear of registration of criminal cases against them. One of this tribe, Asif Sultan, has been arrested and booked for ‘sheltering terrorists’ at his home in Batmaloo, Srinagar, where a head constable was killed by the terrorists while fleeing from his place. Editor of ‘Kashmir Wallah’ Fahad Shah has been arrested and booked under the provisions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Two more cases under UAPA have been filed against journalists Gowhar Geelani and Masrat Zehra.

While Geelani, the most vociferous and articulate campaigner of the separatist’ narrative in the social media, has not been seen anywhere since March this year, Zehra was neither arrested nor stopped from proceeding to Germany and the USA on some fellowships in 2020-22. She, as well as all others, who seemed to be a part of a synchronised anti-India campaign, have muted themselves on social media. Of late, photojournalist Sana Irshad Mattoo was not allowed to fly to New York to receive her Pulitzer award. She registered a mild protest on Twitter.

In January 2018, the UT Government succeeded to wind up the Kashmir Press Club (KPC) after a confrontation of a motley group of the mediapersons, seen to be close to the Government, with the larger group of the journalists who called the shots. KPC had been selectively issuing statements, condemning the alleged excesses by the State but ignoring the threats and hit lists issued by the militants against the independent and ‘pro-Indian’ journalists.

This brand of the mediapersons has been lying low after closure of KPC for fear of ‘harassment’ as a number of them were called and questioned about their work at the local Police Stations.

In the last 33 years, there have been innumerable attacks on the Press and mediapersons in Jammu and Kashmir.  Of the 20 major fatal attacks, at least 15 are widely believed to have been planned and executed by the militants of different organisations. These include the assassinations of Director DDK Srinagar Lassa Kaul, J&K Information Department officers Syed Ghulam Nabi and PN Handoo, editor ‘Al-Safa News’ Mohammad Shaban Vakil, editor FANA Parvaz Mohammad Sultan, DD’s reporter Syedain Shafi, Hindustan Times photojournalist Pradeep Bhatia, Daily Excelsior’s chief photographer Ashok Sodhi and prominent journalist and editor of Rising Kashmir Shujaat Bukhari.

With these attacks and assassinations haunting the Press fraternity, and all the media activist bodies—Editors Guild of India, Press Club of India, Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Sans Frontieres—remaining silent on the issue,  the Kashmiri journalists are further demoralised.