On 30 September 2016, I was planning to visit the Line of Control in north Kashmir for a report for the Kashmir Reader—a local newspaper based in Srinagar that I have been working with since May 2014—on the rising tensions between India and Pakistan after the surgical strike that the Indian Army reportedly conducted on 29 September. I began my research for the story by calling officials from the security forces to enquire about the situation. During the course of one such conversation, an official surprised me when he responded to a question I had asked him by saying, “We have taken a defeat before Kashmir Reader.” Before I could seek an explanation, he continued, “You people lay bare facts.” As a journalist, it is generally a compliment to hear that your publication makes the authorities uncomfortable. However, that is not the case in the valley. The official was not offering me a compliment.
On 2 October—celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti to commemorate the birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi—I decided to take the day off because I had worked for several weeks without a break. At 7 pm that evening, Hilal Mir, the editor of the Kashmir Reader, asked me to come to the office. I reached the office—located on the second storey of SDA Mall at Batamaloo, in Srinagar—at around 7.20 pm. At the entrance, I saw Mir talking on his phone. I paused to hand him a parcel that had been lying with me, when he told me that our paper had been banned. Initially, I could not believe him, but the atmosphere inside the newsroom left me with no other alternative. My colleagues had left their seats and everyone was standing around the editor’s desk. “Where is the ban order?” I asked. The newspaper had not received it yet. Mir had found out about the order because that afternoon, the government had circulated it to the ten printing presses that publish the newspaper.
The order directed them to “abstain from printing and publishing” the daily “so that disturbance of public tranquility is prevented.” It stated that any failure to abide by the order would invite punitive measures, which could include “forfeiture of the printing press and other properties used for the purpose.” Passed by the district magistrate of Srinagar, Farooq Lone, the two-page order alleged that the newspaper “contains such material and content which tends to incite acts of violence and disturb public peace and tranquility.” The order did not provide any justification for the ban, neither did it substantiate the allegations it had made against the paper.