TDN World Desk: Amid lockdown, the Jammu and Kashmir police have invoked the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against photojournalist Masrat Zehra and also initiated investigation against journalist Peerzada Ashiq for allegedly spreading ‘misinformation’.Condemning the move taken by Jammu and Kashmir the Amnesty International called on the Indian Government to immediately stop intimidtion of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir.
Responding Kashmir police’s move, Executive Director of Amnesty International India said, “The two new First Information Reports (FIR) against journalists in Kashmir that initiate investigations against them by the police signal the authorities’ attempt to curb the right to freedom of expression.”
“Harassment and intimidation of journalists through draconian laws such as UAPA threatens the efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and creates an atmosphere of fear and reprisal, he added.
In the statement issued on Monday, Amnety International’s Executive Director further expressed concern over the abuse of UAPA law meant to curb terrorism and ensure internal security of the country.
“Yet time and again, UAPA, India’s principal counter-terrorism law, has been abused to target journalists and human right defenders who criticise government policies,” said Avinash Kumar.
On Monday, Masrat Zehra,a Kashmiri hoto journalist, learnt from the Twitter messages of fellow journalists that the police had booked her under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), an anti-terror law that carries a jail term of up to seven years.
The FIR against her reads, as quoted by Huffington Post,“Cyber police 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 tranquillity.”
To explain her ordeal, Masrat told Aljazeera that the police and government are trying to “muzzle the voices of journalists in Kashmir”.
“Police has nowhere mentioned that I am a journalist. They have said that I am a Facebook user,” she said.
Zahra’s work has appeared in several international and national publications including The Washington Post, The New Humanitarian, TRT World, Al Jazeera, The Caravan and others.
Another Kashmiri journalist Peerzada Ashiq who works with The Hindu newspaper, was also booked under UAPA. As per media reports, the police on 19 April 2020 verbally summoned him and asked him to explain the alleged factual inaccuracies in a story that was published the same day. Peerzada, who resides in Srinagar, was first questioned by the Srinagar Cyber Police and later in the evening was asked to travel to south Kashmir, some 40 kilometers away, and present himself before a police officer in Anantnag district. Later an FIR was registered against him.
Extending solidarity with journalists, Amnesty urged the Indian government to drop charges against journalists Masrat Zehra, Peerzada Ashiq and others.
“Access to information is essential in fighting the unprecedented pandemic we are facing. The government of India must not muzzle the press. It must immediately release and drop all charges against journalists Masrat Zehra, Peerzada Ashiq and others who remain incarcerated solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and refrain from abusing its power in this time of crisis,” the statesment reads.