On Sunday, cyber arm of J&K Police registered a formal complaint under Unlawful Acitivities Prevention Act against the photojournalist Masrat Zahra, 26, for allegedly uploading anti-national posts photographs on social media. Calling her a “Facebook user”, the police complaint charges her for “uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offenses against public tranquillity”. The complaint alleges that the journalist “is also believed to be uploading photographs which can provoke the public to disturb law and order”. It also adds that “the user is also uploading posts that tantamount to glorify the anti-national activities and dent the image of law-enforcing agencies besides causing disaffection against the country”.
At the same time, the complaint advises the general public “to refrain from misuse of social media platforms and circulation of unauthorised information through such platforms. Any person found indulging in such activities, the complaint adds, “will be dealt with strictly under law”.
Zahra has been a photojournalist for the past four years and her work has been published in Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Quint, Caravan etc. She is the second journalist to be booked under the law after Asif Sultan, who is still in jail. Journalist fraternity in Kashmir has opposed the police complaint against her and urged the government to withdraw it. Kashmir Press Club has condemned the “harassment and summons to journalists by police”. The KPC has sought “the cooperation and support of Indian and international journalist bodies at a time when the journalism in the region is under constant onslaught”.
Similarly, Network of Women in Media India has expressed its shock at the FIR lodged against Zahra. The NWMI has termed the charges against her as “preposterous in the extreme” and amounting to “rank intimidation of a journalist”.
Police has also summoned the Peerzada Ashiq, correspondent of The Hindu newspaper to explain the alleged factual inaccuracies in one of his stories. However, he was allowed to go home after his explanation. That said, the cases against journalists and summons to them over their stories has been normalized after August 2019. This is undermining the inalienable right to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution. For a journalist to report on the ongoing situation is his profession. Government can have questions about the accuracy of the reports and hold the journalist responsible for any lacunae thereof. Similarly, for a photojournalist uploading photographs on social media goes with the nature of job. Moreover, more than a written story photos give an honest account of a given situation. This can’t be held against the professional. Government, therefore, needs to revisit its current approach to journalists and journalism. And to start with, it should drop the case against Zahra.
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