FIR lodged against Kashmiri photojournalist Masrat Zahra

New Delhi, India: Network of Women in Media India is shocked at the FIR lodged against its member and award-winning photojournalist Masrat Zahra by the Cyber police, Srinagar under provisions of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Indian Penal Code.

In a press release, the Cyber Police Station Kashmir Zone, Srinagar, said that it lodged the FIR against a facebook user for allegedly ‘ uploading anti national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquility.’ The facebook user, identified by the name Masrat Zahra, is uploading photographs that can provoke the public to disturb law and order and glorify anti-national activities, the press release alleged.


The FIR has been lodged on April 18, 2020, u/s 13 of the UAPA and 505 of the Indian Penal Code. Investigations are on, the press release stated.

NWMI believes that the charges are preposterous in the extreme and amount to rank intimidation of a journalist who has won acclaim for her work, which documents the travails of people of Kashmir. Her special sensitivity towards the plight of women living under conflict in one of the most highly militarized zones in the world has been featured in both national and international publications of repute. Even a cursory look at Masrat Zahra’s Facebook account will show that her stories and photographs are deeply empathetic and accurate reports of the ground reality. Photographs do not lie and her work, as a photojournalist, are clearly uncomfortable for the powers that be.

This is the second time in the recent past that the UAPA has been deployed against journalists in Kashmir. Journalist Aasif Sultan, who was arrested in August 2018 under the UAPA for an article on the slain militant leader Burhan Wani, is still in jail.

The case also comes on the heels of continuous harassment of journalists in Kashmir and is a naked attempt to browbeat journalists from pursuing their work. Journalists in Kashmir are already beleaguered and several have been reduced to precarity because the prolonged Internet shutdown and reduced internet speeds has spelled the death-knell for independent media in Kashmir.

 


As a joint NWMI-FSC report (News behind the barbed wire) on the communication blockade in Kashmir in the wake of the abrogation of Art 370 pointed out, journalists are summoned to police stations and questioned about their reports and their sources of information. They have faced assault and even fired upon with pellet guns and work under almost continuous state surveillance.

At a time when the entire world is engaged in a struggle to deal with the unprecedented crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the state should make all attempts to help the media in Kashmir to report events without fear or favour. It is highly regrettable that such measures are being adopted to undermine the efforts by the media to fulfil its professional duty.

NWMI demands that the FIR lodged against Masrat Zahra be dropped forthwith. Further, NWMI demands that police and security forces stop all such intimidatory and harassing tactics against journalists.

It may be mentioned Masrat Zahra uploaded her photo on her Facebook account. She was covering an operation by armed security personnel in Kachdoora of Shopian district, when her friend took her photograph. A few hours later that photo went viral, and was followed by threats, abuses and intimidation.

 

 

Meanwhile, Kashmir Press Club also released a statement condemning cases against Masrat Zahra under 13 UA (P) Act and 505-IPC.

The Press Statement is hereunder:

Srinagar, April 20,2020: The Kashmir Press Club condemns the recent cases of harassment and summons to journalists by police in Kashmir.

While journalism in Kashmir had never been easy, challenges and hardships have multiplied for journalists since August 05, 2019.

Even in this time of Coronavirus pandemic journalists in Kashmir have been called to police stations and forced to present themselves to explain their stories.

There are other cases where scribes have been harassed for traveling to report their stories.

In the latest incident in this regard, police has booked a young and promising female photo- journalist Masrat Zahra under 13 UA (P) Act and 505-IPC.

She was summoned to Cyber Police Station, Aircargo in Srinagar on April 18, 2020. However after Kashmir Press Club and Directorate of Information intervened at the highest level, the police dropped the summon.

But now it emerges the police have filed a case against her with stringent charges and stringent acts and as per the conversation with Masrat, she has been asked to come to the Police Station concerned on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.

Masrat’s work, as a freelance photo-journalist has appeared previously in Washington Post, Al-Jazeera, Quint, and Caravaan among others.

Similarly, police on Sunday (April 19) verbally summoned a senior journalist, Peerzada Ashiq, of The Hindu and asked him to explain the alleged factual inaccuracies in a story that was published the same day. While Peerzada explained his case to police in Srinagar, he was asked to travel to south Kashmir, some 40 kilometers away in evening, and present himself before a police officer in Anantnag district.
He returned late in the midnight to his home in Srinagar but in the meantime his family was terrified and concerned about his safety.

Earlier also a reporter of Kashmir Observer newspaper Mushtaq Ahmad was thrashed and arrested by the police in Bandipora when he was out during lockdown period related to his professional work. He was released only after securing a bail from the court.

The Kashmir Press Club reiterates that J&K government especially the police, need to understand there is a vast difference between journalism and cyber crime.

While the government has every right to rebut a story of a journalist and allow a journalist to respond, cases against journalists for their stories and work are unwarranted and outrightly illegal and draconian.
There is a full fledged government department -information and public relations – to deal with the issues between state and the journalists and any issue should be left for them to resolve.

It is very unfortunate that when the world is in a grip of pandemic and when we need to stand together to combat the Covid-19, police has started filing cases against journalists and harassing them.

This is unacceptable for journalists of Kashmir who are well within their rights to seek freedom of expression and speech as guaranteed under the Constitution like other parts of the country.

In this regard, we seek intervention of Home Minister Amit Shah, LG GC Murmu and Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh to issue direction that this harassment comes to end.

We stand in solidarity with our colleagues especially Masrat Zahra and declare that journalism is not a crime. The KPC demands that the charges be dropped against her.

The Kashmir Press Club also seeks the cooperation and support of Indian and international journalist bodies at a time when the journalism in the region is under constant onslaught.

The KPC will also formally write to the Press Council of India and other bodies on these cases which seem to be aimed at pressuring journalists in the valley.

KASHMIR PRESS CLUB
SRINAGAR