21 MAY 2020 OKC – COVID-19 KASHMIR MEDIA CONFERENCE
“The global media needs to view India afresh by recognising the facist ideology being promoted by the ruling BJP against Muslims and especially Kashmiris”
“…the belligerent statements by Indian leaders is an attempt to externalise the problems it has created in Kashmir”
Organisation of Kashmir Coalition (OKC) convened a virtual conference on COVID-19 KASHMIR MEDIA CONFERENCE in which galaxy of international journalists and academics/jurists participated. The key note speaker of the conference, Dr Moeed Yusuf, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on National Security Division and Strategic Planning, in his presentation highlighted that – “the global media needs to view India afresh by recognising the fascist ideology being promoted by the ruling BJP against Muslims and especially Kashmiris.” He noted that not since Hitler had fascism posed such a serious threat to regional and global peace. Dr Moeed Yusuf reiterated Pakistan’s position that UNSC resolutions are the only mechanism to solve the Kashmir conflict and India should reverse its 5 August 2019 unlawful actions before any substantive and meaningful dialogue is possible. He warned the international community against the high likelihood of India using a false flag operation to justify its expansionist designs by initiating military action against Pakistan which is evident from the belligerent statements by Indian leaders in an attempt to externalise the problems it has created in Kashmir.
The plenary guest speaker of the conference H.E. Mohammed Nafees Zakaria, High Commissioner for Pakistan to the United Kingdom, stated that media has moral obligation to raise voice against the Indian siege of Kashmiris that has been increased manifold since 5 August 2019 and now use Covid-19 inhumanly to further penalise Kashmiris. The High Commissioner catalogued sufferings and atrocities perpetrated upon Kashmiris over the last 7 decades including mass rape of Kashmiri women at Kunan Poshpora in 1991 and discovery of unnamed and unmarked mass graves for which India is liable to be held accountable for crimes against humanity, violation of all relevant international conventions on human rights and racial discrimination. He alerted the international community that India’s enforced unlawful demographic change in Indian Occupied Kashmir may further lead to de-stabilise the region’s peace and security.
Prof Nazir A Shawl, chairman of the conference and Executive Member of OKC, in his address asked the international media to realise that information is power and insight that can impact on public discourse; adding free mass media is a tool of and signpost of democracy. He pointed out that Kashmir media is totally gaged and the Indian media manipulated by the present fascist regime at New Delhi spreading hatred and racism. Prof Shawl alerted the international community that while the world is engaged in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, Indian is unlawfully advancing its nefarious agenda to bring about rapidly demographic change by issuing domicile certificates randomly. Prof Shawl lamented the extra-judicial killing of Junaid Sehrai son of a veteran Kashmiri leader Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai. Appealing to the media he asked for their support to stand for Kashmiris democratic rights (including their right to self -determination) as democracy is self-determination and self-determination is democracy; the slogan introduced at the 2017 media conference.
Victoria Schofield, the conference lead speaker, author, historian and journalist, highlighted the importance of unbiased reporting which was both credible and authentic; quoting from the preface of her first book written on the Jammu- Kashmir issue, Kashmir in the Crossfire, published in 1996, she said that it was also important to recognise the conflicting viewpoints and differing aspirations among the inhabitants of the state. While condemning human rights abuses in the valley of Kashmir, she said that unless there was a renewed focus on resolving the dispute through dialogue, human rights abuse would continue. She recognised that journalists have a role to play in highlighting the issue both locally and internationally, and that freedom of speech is paramount.
Leonid Savin, geopolitical analyst, founder and chief editor of Eurasian Affairs, referred to the Kashmir policy during the Soviet Union era which is now changing. He further highlighted that India has influenced Russian media for many decades to block information on the Kashmir conflict but now it is crucial for OKC to engage with Russian media and civil society.
Mohsin Abbas, journalist and publisher, BBC News, Daily Pakistan and Santiago Times, deplored the restrictions and excesses imposed on the fellow journalist in the Kashmir Valley. He further advocated that international media organisations to send delegations to the Valley of Kashmir and find and report the truth.
Prof Josep-Lluis Alay, Associates Professor of Asian History at the Faculty of Geography and History, University of Barcelona, quoted the 2020 Freedom House Report in which Kashmir has been downgraded to a NOT FREE territory (from a 2019 PARTLY FREE territory), from a 49/100 in 2019, the level of freedom in Kashmir was brought down to a shameful 28/100 in 2020.
He further stated that such a drastic decrease in general political freedom is accompanied by a reduction in freedom of expression, opinion and press; furthermore, the upbreak of the health Covid-19 crisis in the beginning of 2020, has contributed to a further siege on the political freedoms of Kashmiris when two lockdowns superpose, the political and the sanitary.Prof Josep Alay quoted the two specific cases of Kashmiri journalists to be stressed:
1. Qazi Shibli, Editor of The Kashmiriyat news website. He was arrested in July 2019 for reporting on Indian troops movement in Kashmir; after 5 August he was booked under PSA and jailed for 9 months in Uttar Pradesh. He was not allowed to use a pen or even read a printed book for months. He was finally released on April 23rd after 9 months in custody. Now he is back in Kashmir trying to restore his news media; and
2. Fahad Shah, Editor of The Kashmir Walla news website. A more common technique to force Kashmiri journalists into self-censorship. He was summoned on 20 May to a police station in Srinagar where he was KWM questioned about his report on a gunshot incident the day before. The actual reason for his retention was to blame him for ‘maligning Indian police’ in a report where he informed about the destruction and looting of Kashmiri citizens houses.
He stressed that the only solution to the conflict is to let Kashmiris to exercise their internationally recognized right to self-determination.
William Morris, Chairman for the International Council for Press and Broadcasting, compared the Kashmir conflict with the Palestinian situation laying emphasis that Pakistan to address any grievances the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir may have and that Pakistan ought not to put pre-conditions for holding a dialogue.
Ashraf Wani, journalist and President of Association of displaced Kashmiri Journalists (ADKJ), articulated that the conflict-escalation role by media takes many shapes like it becomes tool of propaganda and follows nationalistic and ethnocentric approaches, leaving behind the truth and impartiality, as has been observed in many peace studies; the case is not different in South Asia, particularly when one witness the coverage of the Kashmir conflict, and that too by the Indian media; he alerted that every event, issue or news story of Kashmir is framed not to depict the actual reality related to Kashmir but to construct a reality that suits the nationalistic agenda of the Modi Regime and mislead not only billions of Indian population but also downplay the role of international media in highlighting the plight of Kashmiris; the Indian media do not report reality, but it shapes reality according to the agenda set by the Indian government. Ashraf Wani highlighted that on the other hand, the local media in Kashmir, faces enormous challenges to work in an atmosphere where it keeps on struggling to strike a balance in reporting the reality and threats and pressures from occupation authorities; there virtually is no concept of freedom or press and freedom of expression. Quoting Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in its latest World Press Freedom Index Report has noted that it has become “virtually impossible” for journalists to report from the Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK) and pushed India two spots down from last year to 142; a photo journalist Masrat Zahra, was swept up in a draconian law over her Facebook posts; Peerzada Ashiq, a Kashmir-based journalist working for an Indian paper was booked for spreading what they call “fake news” and “misinformation”; and a freelance journalist and political commentator Gowhar Geelani, was booked after police accused him of “glorifying terrorism” in social media posts.
Ianina Cozari, a freelancer journalist based at Brussels, expressed her solidarity with the Kashmiri Journalists and expressing her dismay at the restrictions, arrests and detentions of the Journalist. She assured that she will continue to report on the Kashmir conflict.
In his written statement Noel Ndong, journalist and correspondent at Adiac Les Depeches de Brazzaville, stated that in the face of human tragedy and health crisis-even though Pakistan and India have so far been largely spared; that the sharing of common spaces must take place. He insisted on strengthening multilateralism and human rights.
Frank Schwalba Hoth, founding member of the German Greens and one of the first Green member Parliament in Germany and the European Parliament, applauded the work of OKC during the Covid-19 pandemic by holding four Kashmir conferences virtually thereby keeping the Kashmir conflict within the international radar. He presented the conference “Declaration” for its deliberations.
Barrister A Majid Tramboo, Executive Member of OKC, IHRAAM permanent representative to the United Nations and practicing lawyer on human rights and international law, moderated the conference. He remarked that today’s conditions in the Covid-19 pandemic in Kashmir are explosive and fraught with danger; South Asia is home to over a billion people; over the years the Kashmir conflict has eclipsed the possibilities of peace and prosperity in the region and the prevailing conditions pose a serious threat of regional and global peace bearing in mind that the region is a nuclear flashpoint. Barrister Tramboo asked that the international media should play its key role by giving proper exposure to the Kashmir conflict, highlighting the human rights angle and that the international media should work to developing partnerships with local media with a view to ensuring unbiased and independent coverage.
Other Journalists who attended the conference included Catherine Feore – EU Reporter Brussels; Mathis Gilsbach – German freelance journalist who covers European and Global political affairs, Marit Fosse – Chief Editor, Diva International and a United Nations based journalist at Geneva and Heide Newson – Journalist at Grenzecho.
The “Covid-19 Kashmir Media Declaration” was unanimously approved. The “Declaration” is part of this Press Release.
THE COVID-19 KASHMIR MEDIA DECLARATION The Covid-19 Kashmir Media Conference adopted on 21 May 2020 the following“Declaration”;
- – that India should give full respect to its international human rights obligations in Indian Held Jammu & Kashmir/Indian Administrated Jammu And Kashmir (IHJ&K/ IAJ&K);
- – that pursuant to the United Nations Reports on Jammu & Kashmir in 2018 & 2019, an independent enquiry commission should be established to probe all civilian killings, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence enforced disappearance, destruction of properties and excessive use of force causing serious injuries by the use of the pellet-firing shotguns;
- – that all members of the international media should be encouraged to advocate strongly for the three parties to the Kashmir conflict namely the people of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan and India to embark on the path of “Dialogue”; this can be achieved by continuous write-ups by journalists, columnists, jurists, scholars and politicians (possibly creating a space for this in their editorials) to bring about resolution of the conflict achieving peace and tranquillity, not only for India, Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir but regionally and ultimately globally as well;
- – that all those held under administrative detention, ensure the full respect of standards of due process and fair trial is guaranteed to them under international law;
- – that restrictions on the movement of journalists should be lifted and their safety ensured; that independent and impartial reporting should be allowed; and that arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and extra-judicial killings should be forbidden;
- – that the people of Jammu and Kashmir should be granted their right of self- determination as prescribed by international law pursuant to the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Jammu & Kashmir; and
- – that the international media should be encouraged to play its key role by giving proper exposure to the Kashmir conflict, highlighting the human rights angle, and emphasising that the prevailing conditions pose a serious threat to regional and global peace; and that the international media should work to developing partnerships with local media with the view to ensuring unbiased and independent coverage.
Press Release 22 May 20