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  • Evan Barrett

As Sec. Austin prepares for trip to India, press freedom continues to deteriorate in Kashmir

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

This week, Prime Minister Modi's BJP government continued to escalate its assault on free speech and free press in Kashmir and across India. Here are the highlights:

  • Just weeks after Greta Thunberg and Rihanna used their platforms to amplify the plight of Indian farmers and were subsequently threatened by the Indian government for simply addressing the issue, Amal and George Clooney’s NGO has announced it will monitor the case of jailed Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan.

  • Sultan has spent two years in jail awaiting trial on terrorism charges. Last Fall, the Committee to Protect Journalists joined nearly 400 journalists & civil society members to call for his release and The National Press Club awarded him its John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award. Sultan's reporting represented independent fact-finding on the state of militancy in Kashmir which is otherwise the exclusive domain of Indian intelligence agencies.

  • Just last Friday, a BBC journalist covering protests at one of Kashmir's largest mosques was allegedly beaten by police simply for reporting on the event, while the editor-in-chief of local outlet Kashmir Walla was arbitrarily detained, leading to an outcry from the Editors Guild of India.

  • While international attention continues to increase on India's anti-democratic actions to intimidate and silence the free press, so far the BJP government has offered no indications that it will reverse course on its targeting of journalists, including Kashmiris who have been increasingly targeted under counterterrorism statutes since August 2019.

The bottom line: With news that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin plans to visit India next week as part of his first overseas trip on the job, it is imperative that the Biden administration and Congress hold the Indian government accountable for its clear democratic backsliding and well-documented assault on journalists in Kashmir and across the country.

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