KPC demands withdrawal of charges against Masrat Zahra

Photojournalist Masrat Zahra
Photojournalist Masrat Zahra

SRINAGAR — Kashmir Press Club (KPC) on Monday condemned the booking of a female photojournalist Masrat Zahra under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

In a statement issued here, the Kashmir Press Club said that while journalism in Kashmir had never been easy, challenges and hardships have multiplied for journalists since August 05, 2019.

It said, 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, it said.

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, the statement reads.

KPC said that she was summoned to Cyber Police Station, Air Cargo 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,” the statement said.

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

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“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”, adding that 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 KPC statement says.

It said that 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 out-rightly illegal and draconian, it says.

The Club alleged that there is a full fledged government department -Information and Public Relations – to deal with the issues between administration and the journalists and any issue should be left for them to resolve.

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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, it added.

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, reads the statement.

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

“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 KPC said.

It further said that 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, adding that 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.

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