Srinagar: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the “flimsy charges brought against Masrat Zahra,” a freelance photojournalist, who was booked under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and section 505 of Indian Penal Code.
The RSF, an international NGO working to safeguard the right to freedom of information, noted that Zahra is facing up to seven years in prison under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on a charge brought against her on 18 April of posting photos and other content on social media that “glorify anti-national activities.”
“In the absence of any substantiation by the police, we call on the Jammu and Kashmir authorities to immediately drop these outrageous charges against Masrat Zahra,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “These proceedings clearly amount to intimidation and, as such, directly violate article 19 (1a) of India’s 1950 constitution. This photojournalist must be allowed to continue her work without fear of further harassment attempts.”
Zahra also told the RSF that she received a summons from the Srinagar police on the evening of 18 April, to which she responded that “it would be difficult for me to go out during the lockdown because I had no co curfew pass.” It was only from tweets posted by the police this morning — 20 April — that Zahra learned that she is charged under the UAPA and that an FIR had also been filed against her under Section 505 of the Penal Code, which punishes inciting “an offence against the state or against public tranquillity.”
Under the UAPA, the National Investigation Agency (India’s counter-terrorism police), are allowed to detain suspects for extended periods without any kind of formal charge, adds the RSF.
The RSF also applauded Zahra’s work, terming it “widely recognized as being exceptionally skilled at capturing the everyday life of the Kashmiri people.”
The organisation also noted that other journalists, including Mushtaq Ahmad Ganaie and Umaisar Gull, have been recently harassed and intimidated during the COVID-19 pandemic in Kashmir.
India is ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, it added.