We, at the Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP), condemn in the strongest terms the first information report (FIR) booked against Kashmir-based journalist Masrat Zahra under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The allegation of the Kashmir police that she uploaded “anti national posts” on social media and that they were written “with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquility” is a travesty calculated to intimidate the media and have a chilling effect on free speech, in a state that has already been suffering since August 2019 from severe restrictions.
In reality, Zahra’s social media posts have presented case studies of the prolonged humanitarian crisis in what has been the most devastating conflict zone in India. It is reprehensible that for such posts, 26-year-old Zahra has been booked under stringent criminal provisions punishable with imprisonment up to seven years. This is despite her being a journalist who has had her photos and reports published in reputed and credible publications such as The Washington Post, The Caravan, The Quint and Al Jazeera English.
FMP has already filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court challenging the Jammu and Kashmir Government’s order of March 26, 2020 restricting internet speed in mobile data services to excruciatingly slow 2G and providing internet connectivity only with Mac-binding. We have sought directions from the apex court for the restoration of the internet speed in mobile data services in Jammu and Kashmir to 4G in line with the rest of the country, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We note with concern that the case against Zahra comes on the heels of another high-handed action initiated by Kashmir police, this one on a report published in The Hindu newspaper. In this connection, the police ordered journalist Peerzada Ashiq to travel 40 kilometers despite the Covid-19 threat to be questioned in Anantnag, for alleged inaccuracies in this story.
We demand that both these cases be immediately closed and that the police be held to account by the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and the Ministry of Home Affairs for these serious lapses.
20 April 2020