Drop charges against Kashmir journalists, stop harassing the press: IPI

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Srinagar: The International Press Institute (IPI) has called on the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir to immediately withdraw cases registered against three journalists in the region and end all harassment of the press IPI a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, said today.

On 18 April, the police in Jammu and Kashmir charged a freelance photojournalist, Masrat Zahra, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The draconian Act allows the government to designate individuals as terrorists. The police have claimed that Zahra posted photographs and information to social media that glorify “anti-national activities” that could lead to the disruption of public order.

Another journalist, Peerzada Ashiq, who works for The Hindu newspaper, was summoned by the police over on 19 April report about the family members of two militants who were refused the bodies of their deceased kin.

Ashiq was questioned about alleged inaccuracies in the report and a case has been filed against him. On 21 April, journalist and author Gowhar Geelani was booked for “glorifying terrorism”. Police claim they began investigating Geelani after receiving reports that he was “indulging in unlawful activities” deemed “prejudicial to the national integrity, sovereignty and security of India” through his writings on social media. Like Zahra, Geelani, too, has been booked under UAPA.

IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen reiterated IPI’s grave concern over the state of media freedom in Kashmir. “Over the past few months, Kashmir has become one of the world’s most repressive spots for the press, with the authorities using arrests, internet shutdowns and surveillance to control the flow of news,” Griffen said. “We urge the government to drop charges against all three recently detained journalists and stop harassing the press.”

The statement further noted that besides legal harassment and the monitoring of content of news reports and social media, journalists have also been subjected to physical attacks like beatings since last August.

“In addition, restrictions on access to high-speed Internet have seriously hampered the work of journalists in Kashmir for several months. Authorities have extended a ban on high-speed mobile Internet until May 11,” reads the statement.

It added that press freedom has been deteriorating in Jammu and Kashmir since August 2019, after the central government revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which had guaranteed autonomy for the territory.

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