The Jammu and Kashmir police have booked First Information Report’s (FIR) on journalists, Peerzada Ashiq, Mazrat Zahra and Gowhar Geelani in what looks like an attempt to create a chilling effect on journalists in the valley and the rest of the country.
The Hindu’s correspondent in Srinagar, Peerzada Ashiq, was called for questioning by the cyber police in Srinagar after a published report headlined “Kin allowed to exhume bodies of militants in Baramulla” was deemed as “Fake News” by the police. Stating that the news was published without seeking confirmation from the district authorities, the J&K police said, “The details quoted in the news item were factually incorrect and could cause fear or alarm in the minds of public”.
The article carried a quote from the uncle of a slain militant, Ghulam Nabi Magray, establishing exhumation. However, contrary to what was conveyed to the reporter, there was no permission given for exhumation and the families had misconstrued a curfew pass as sanction. The report also mentioned that Yasin Choudhary, Deputy Commissioner, Shopian, was not available for his comment to be carried out in the article. “No rejoinder/clarification was received by the newspaper prior to the registration of the FIR either from the police or from the information department,” reported The Hindu.
Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s Twitter handle, used by her daughter Iltija, said,” Any dissent/ counter opinion has been outlawed & criminalised. Filing FIRs & invoking stringent laws meant for criminals is a blot on democracy”.
Kashmiri photojournalist, Mazrat Zahra was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for allegedly uploading “anti-national posts with criminal intentions”. A statement issued by the police said, “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 tranquility”. Zahra was also believed to be uploading photographs that could provoke the public said the statement. However the police statement did not mention specific posts by the journalist.
The Kashmiri Press Club (KPC) demanded the immediate withdrawal of the charges filed against Zahra, “We stand in solidarity with our colleagues especially Masrat Zahra and declare that journalism is not a crime. The KPC demands that the charges be dropped against her,” said the statement.
The Editors Guild of India raised concerns on the manner in which the authorities in the union territory have used the UAPA against Mazrat Zahra. The statement said, “Any recourse to such laws for merely publishing something in the mainstream or social media is a gross misuse of power. Its only purpose can be to strike terror into journalists. The Guild also believes that this is an indirect way of intimidating journalists in the rest of the country as well.”
The Jammu and Kashmir cyber police have also filed an FIR on Gowhar Geelani for “indulging in unlawful activities through his posts and writings on social media”. According to the police several complaints were received against Geelani for “threatening and intimidation”. Charged under the UAPA the police statement said, “The unlawful activities include glorifying terrorism in Kashmir Valley, causing disaffection against the country and causing fear or alarm in the minds of public that may lead to commission of offences against public tranquillity and the security of (the) state”.
Former Chief Minister of J&K and National Conference (NC) leader, Omar Abdullah, tweeted in support of the journalists. He said, “this campaign of FIRs against journalists & commentators in Kashmir IS WRONG & must stop.”
Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter, Iltija, tweeted again from her mother’s twitter handle, “Absurd that filing FIRs & slapping anti-terror laws like UAPA against journalists is being done at breakneck speed even in the middle of a deadly pandemic.” She said.
Meanwhile, India dropped two places on the global press freedom index and is now ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the annual Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.