Long term restraint on newspapers unreasonable: Katju to Omar

PCI chairperson Markandey Katju has written to J-K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah saying a short term restraint order on publication of newspapers may be justified in the wake of Afzal Guru's execution, but will be unreasonable if it goes on for a long time.

Omar in his reply told Katju that the state had imposed no restrictions on publications of newspapers, but added that there had been difficulties because of restrictions imposed on movement which may soon be resolved.

Earlier Katju had apprised Omar that he had been receiving emails stating that newspapers are not being allowed to be published or distributed in Kashmir besides curb on mobile and internet services.

"My own thinking in the matter is this: no freedom can be absolute, and hence press freedom under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution can also not be absolute, but is subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest vide Article 19(2)," the Press Council Chairman wrote in his letter.

He said Kashmir has a law and order problem, and ordinarily it is the state government which is the best judge of the situation and its decisions should be respected.

Katju added that the state government may have considered that for some time there should be a restraint on press freedom, because while many newspapers are responsible, some are not, and may publish inflammatory material which may create a huge law and order problem by inciting people.

Katju said a restraint order may be justified for some time, but not over a long time. "After all, there has to be a limit to the time duration of the restraint order, and it cannot continue indefinitely. People have to be allowed to let off steam and express their grievances peacefully, otherwise their grievances will erupt violently," he said.

Omar in his reply said the execution of Afzal Guru took place on Saturday (Feb 9) and on Saturday night, some local newspapers like Kashmir Images and Kashmir Reader and a few local Urdu dailies did print and publish their newspapers.

Circulation of these papers by the vendors was not possible as there were severe restrictions on any kind of movement in Srinagar city, in particular, and all over the Kashmir Valley at large, the chief minister said.

"We have been given to understand that on Sunday newspapers have not printed their editions as restrictions were continuing in the Kashmir Valley and circulation of the same would not have been possible, even if they were to be printed," Omar said in his reply.

"It may be mentioned that Jammu editions of the Kashmir- based papers did get circulated.

The Information department has not issued any directive to the publishers by putting any restrictions," he said.

It is true that the internet facilities on GPRS-enabled phones have suffered, but broadband internet facilities are available and the newspapers are updating their editions online, he added.

With the government proposing to ease restrictions in the Kashmir Valley as the situation improves, movement of vehicles will also be facilitated and authorities are sure that the media publications will also start circulation, Omar wrote in his reply.

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