Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir police on Monday booked a female freelance photojournalist under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for “uploading anti-national posts” on social media, evoking sharp criticism and condemnation from media fraternity, political parties and trade bodies.
26-year-old Zahra was booked by the cyber wing of police under section 13 UA (P) Act and 505-IPC for “uploading posts that tantamount to glorify the anti-national activities and dent the image of law enforcing agencies besides causing disaffection against the country.”
The police action has come as a shock to Zahra, whose work has been published by national and international organisations like Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Caravan and many other publications.
Also Read: UAPA Against a Journalist
“Since I was stuck at home, I have been putting photos of my work over the past few years on Facebook and Twitter. For example, the photo of a newspaper cutting and money soaked in blood of a man suspected of being a militant who was killed in an encounter. These were all professional photos. I wasn’t uploading anything fake or baseless. It was all my work. I don’t know why they found my work objectionable,” Zahra told HuffPost India.
“I was just uploading my professional work and nothing else… I am clueless, I don’t know what to say, how to react.” she added.
Police on Sunday also summoned senior journalist Peerzada Ashiq, working for a national daily ‘The Hindu’, over a story he had filed recently.
Ashiq was summoned by the police in two different districts of Kashmir within a span of six hours to explain his position regarding one of his news reports.
Meanwhile, the Twitterati and journalists in Kashmir started the hashtag #IStandWithMasratZahra in support of the woman journalist.
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti’a daughter Iltija Mufti said intimidating and harassing journalists in Jammu and Kashmir to stifle reportage has become the norm.
“Masarat Zahra, a photojournalist was booked under draconian UAPA for allegedly ‘uploading anti national posts’. In J&K using VPNs or social media is now seen as a threat to public order,” Iltija tweeted from her mother’s handle.
Meanwhile, two prominent international non-government organizations Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have called for immediate and unconditional withdrawal of charges against Zahra and Ashiq.
In a statement issued to media, Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk said “In the absence of any substantiation by the police, we call on the Jammu and Kashmir authorities to immediately drop these outrageous charges against Masrat Zahra,”
“These proceedings clearly amount to intimidation and, as such, directly violate article 19 (1a) of India’s 1950 constitution. This photojournalist must be allowed to continue her work without fear of further harassment attempts,” he added.
CPJ’s senior Asia researcher, in New York, Aliya Iftikhar said that the Police should drop their investigations into both journalists, and India should reform its laws to make such “capricious actions by police impossible.”
“Masrat Zahra and Peerzada Ashiq should be free to report on events in Jammu and Kashmir without facing harassment and intimidation from local authorities,” she added.
Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry also condemned the harassment of journalists in Kashmir and demanded withdrawal of case against Zahra.
“The filing of a case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against 26 year old photojournalist Masrat Zahra for uploading posts regarding her previously published works is a direct interference in the independence of the media,” a KCCI spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said that earlier also, there have been several instances of journalists being summoned to Police Stations and questioned on “flimsy grounds”.
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.