Kashmir Press Club (KPC) and Kashmir Working Journalist Association (KWJA) on Monday took strong exception to a case against woman photojournalist Masrat Zahra, under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), and demanded the police should withdraw the charges against her.
In a statement the KPCsaid: "Even in this time of coronavirus pandemic journalists in Kashmir havebeen called to police stations and forced to present themselves to explaintheir stories," the statement said.
In the latest incident, thestatement said, police have booked Zahra under 13 UA (P) Act and 505-IPC.
"She was summoned to Cyberpolice station in Srinagar on April 18. However after Kashmir Press Club andDirectorate of Information intervened at the highest level, the police droppedsummon," said the statement. "But now it emerges the police have filed a caseagainst her with stringent charges and stringent acts and as per conversationwith Masrat, she has been asked to come to the police station concerned onTuesday, April 21."
Similarly, the statementsaid police on Sunday verbally summoned senior journalist, Peerzada Ashiq andasked him to explain the alleged factual inaccuracies in a story.
"While Peerzada explainedhis case to police in Srinagar, he was asked to travel to south Kashmir, some40 km away in evening, and present himself before a police officer in Anantnagdistrict," the statement said. "Earlier also a reporter of Kashmir Observer newspaper Mushtaq Ahmad was thrashed andarrested by the police in Bandipora when he was out during lockdown periodrelated to his professional work. He was released only after securing a bailfrom the court."
"We seek intervention ofHome Minister Amit Shah, LG GC Murmu and Director General of Police DilbaghSingh to issue direction that this harassment comes to end. The KPC demandsthat the charges be dropped against Masrat Zahra."
In a separate statement,KWJA condemned the "continued harassment" of journalists in Kashmir. Referringto the case against Zahra, the KWJA said it was "aghast at this new low by thepolice in its campaign against journalists". "KWJA calls upon the government tostop muzzling the press, free speech and voices of dissent in Kashmir, andpromote a culture of accountability rather than one of submission," said thestatement.
"By harassing journalists throughintimidation…the government is only exposing its failures in its duties towardspeople," the statement said. "We call upon the government and police to let thebetter sense prevail and withdraw the charges against Masrat and let hercontinue her work in a professional manner."
It said the Association hasalso taken note of the harassment meted out to Peerzada Ashiq. "The pattern ofsummoning journalists to police stations, intimidating them with the firstinformation reports (FIRs) and stopping them from travel has only intensifiedsince August last year. Senior journalist and author Gowhar Geelani was stoppedfrom travelling to Germany. Peerzada Ashiq, Naseer Ganai, Basharat Masood,Hakeem Irfan and many others have been summoned by the police to explain theirnews reportage," said the statement.
Meanwhile, Kashmir Chamberof Commerce and Industry condemned the harassment of journalists in Kashmir andexpressed solidarity with the fraternity.
"The filing of a case underthe Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against Masrat Zahra for uploadingposts regarding her previously published works is a direct interference in theindependence of the media. Masrat Zahra is an acclaimed young journalist whoseworks have featured in leading international newspapers and channels," saidKCCI, in a statement.
"Freedom of expression is auniversal human right and more so when such freedom is critical to one'sprofessional duties. The local press needs the freedom to circulate opinionswithout any censorship by the government," the statement said, asking thepolice to withdraw the case filed against Zahra.