An independent news outlet in Indian-administered Kashmir says it has been evicted from its office after Indian authorities blocked access to its website and social media accounts, adding to concerns about press freedom in the disputed region.
The Kashmir Walla, based in the capital, Srinagar, said it had lived a “horrifying nightmare” since February 2022, when its founder and editor, Fahad Shah, was arrested under anti-terrorism and sedition laws.
On Saturday, it said in a statement, “we woke up to another deadly blow of finding access to our website and social media accounts blocked.”
The outlet said its service provider told it that the website had been blocked on government orders. Its Facebook page, on which it has almost 500,000 followers, is also no longer available in India, while its account on X, formerly known as Twitter, appears with a message saying it has been blocked “in response to a legal demand.”
The outlet added that it was vacating its office after the landlord served an eviction notice.
“This opaque censorship is gut-wrenching,” said the outlet, which was founded more than a decade ago. “There isn’t a lot left for us to say anymore.”
Critics have accused Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a highly popular Hindu nationalist who is expected to seek a third term in elections next year, of cracking down on press freedom, particularly in Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority region. The highly militarized Himalayan region is also claimed by neighboring Pakistan, which controls part of it.
In August 2019, Modi revoked the limited autonomy that Indian-administered Kashmir had enjoyed for 70 years and put it under federal control, an order that was followed by a monthslong internet blackout. Rights advocates say civil liberties in Kashmir have been curbed since the order, which is being challenged at India’s top court.
Government officials have not commented on The Kashmir Walla’s closure.
Indian news organizations and other supporters criticized the actions against the outlet.
The Kashmir Walla was “one of the few portals that dared to speak truth to power,” Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of Kashmir, said on X.
The Digipub News India Foundation, a group of digital media organizations that promotes a healthy news environment, said in a statement on X that The Kashmir Walla’s sudden closure was “yet another act of intimidation of journalists in Kashmir who have been facing threats, harassment and arrests at a growing pace since August 2019.”
Human Rights Watch reported last year that since 2019, at least 35 journalists in Kashmir had faced “police interrogation, raids, threats, physical assault or criminal cases” over their reporting. They include Sajad Gul, a trainee reporter with The Kashmir Walla who was arrested in January 2022 and, like Shah, remains in prison.
Also in January 2022, the Kashmir Press Club, the largest media organization in Indian-administered Kashmir, was forcibly shut down after armed police raided it, according to the International Federation of Journalists.
India, the world’s largest democracy, ranks 161st out of 180 countries on this year’s World Press Freedom Index, down from 150th last year.
Disclosure: Kashmir Walla interim editor Yashraj Sharma has reported for NBC News.