NWMI demands withdrawal of charges against Kashmiri journalist booked under UAPA

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Srinagar: The Network of Women in Media India (NWMI) has called the charges against a female photojournalist by Jammu and Kashmir Cyber Police “preposterous in the extreme and amount to rank intimidation of a journalist, and one who has won acclaim for her work, which documents the lived experiences of the people of Kashmir.”

Masrat Zahra, a professional photojournalist, was booked under the UAPA and IPC-505 for posting “anti-national” content on Facebook on 18 April, the police claimed.

The NWMI demanded in a statement that the FIR lodged against Zahra be dropped forthwith. “The police and security forces in Kashmir and across the country stop all such tactics, which amount to intimidation and harassment against journalists,” said the NWMI.

Applauding Zahra’s work, the NWMI stated that she had special sensitivity towards the plight of women living under conflict in one of the most highly militarised zones in the world, which has been featured in both national and international publications of repute. 

“Even a cursory look at Masrat Zahra’s Facebook account reveal that her stories and photographs are deeply empathetic and accurate reports of the ground reality,” the NWMI said in a statement. “Photographs do not lie but her exceptional work as a photojournalist obviously causes discomfort among the powers that be.”

The NWMI also called the charges against her today “an ironic and telling comment on the independent nature of her work, which draws approbation from online trolls as well as the police and security forces alike.”

The act of booking Zahra, the NWMI said, represents yet another instance of the continued harassment of journalists in Kashmir and “is part of the naked attempt to browbeat journalists and prevent them 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 since August 2019 have sounded the death-knell for independent media in Kashmir,” the statement added.

“At a time when the entire world is engaged in a struggle to deal with the unprecedented crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the state should make all attempts to enable the media in Kashmir to report events without fear or favour,” the statement said. “It is highly regrettable that, instead, measures such as the FIR against Masrat Zahra are being adopted that serve to undermine efforts by journalists to fulfil their professional duty.”

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