The Jammu and Kashmir Police has booked a female photojournalist under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for her social media posts.
According to a police press release, the Cyber Police Station "received information through reliable sources that one Facebook user namely Masrat Zahra is uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquility."
Twenty-six-year-old Masrat Zahra, who works as a freelance photojournalist, has contributed to several national and international publications.
UAPA, the law she has been booked under, allows the government to proscribe individuals as terrorists and empowers the National Investigation Agency to probe cases.
The Kashmir Press Club has sought the intervention of Home Minister Amit Shah, LG GC Murmu and Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh to issue a direction that this “harassment” comes to end.
Journalist bodies said at a time when the world is fighting COVID-19 pandemic, it is unfortunate that the government in Jammu and Kashmir is busy subjecting journalists to harassment and mental torture.
The Kashmir Press Club and Directorate of Information had at first intervened and the police had dropped the summons.
However, the police later filed a case against and initiated an investigation.
"The Facebook user is also believed to be uploading photographs which can provoke the public to disturb law and order. The user is also uploading posts that tantamount to glorify the anti-national activities and dent the image of law enforcement agencies besides causing disaffection against the country," police said.
"Accordingly, a case FIR No. 10/2020 U/S 13 UA (P) Act and 505-IPC dated 18-04-2020 stands registered in Cyber Police Station, Kashmir Zone, Srinagar and investigation set into motion."
The Kashmir Press Club statement said that the photojournalist has been asked to come to the Police Station concerned on Tuesday.
It further said 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.”
On Sunday, April 19, the police verbally summoned a senior journalist working with a leading national daily and asked him to explain the alleged factual inaccuracies in a story that was published the same day.
While the senior journalist explained his case to police in Srinagar, he was asked to travel to south Kashmir, some 40 km away, in the evening and present himself before a police officer in Anantnag district.
Earlier, a reporter of a local English daily 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 bail from the court.
The Kashmir Press Club said that J&K government especially the police, need to understand there is a vast difference between journalism and cybercrime. “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 said.
Another journalist’s organisation, Kashmir Working Journalist Association (KWJA) condemned and protests the continued harassment of journalists in Kashmir at the hands of police which they say is being taken to new levels with each passing day.
“It is the duty of journalists to report on all aspects of the society including conflict and dissent. By harassing journalists through intimidation, police beatings, cooked up cases, and other forms of harassment, the government is only exposing its failures in its duties towards people,” KWJA said.
“KWJA has also taken note of the harassment meted out to senior journalist Peerzada Ashiq, who was summoned by police first at Srinagar and then to Anantnag for a report which the government did not like,” KWJA added.