Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, 20 April 2020 (Anadolu News)
Indian authorities on Monday booked a Kashmiri photojournalist under a draconian law for her Facebook post, a move criticized for violating the right to free speech in the world’s largest democracy.
“Cyber police station received information through reliable sources that one Facebook user Masrat Zahra is uploading anti national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquility,” according to a statement issued by the police.
Zahra has been booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Section 505 of Indian Penal Code. If convicted, she could face up to seven years in jail.
Zahra, 26, told Anadolu Agency that she was summoned to the cyber police station on Tuesday.
The case has drawn an online protest from Kashmiri journalists who sent out a tweet: “Masarat Zehra, a professional photojournalist, has honestly told stories of Kashmir in 4-year career. Invoking UAPA is outrageous. In solidarity with our colleague, we demand FIR withdrawn. Journalism isn’t crime. Intimidation/ censorship won’t silence Kashmir’s journalists.”
In a statement, the Kashmir Press Club said the “government, especially the police, need to understand there is a vast difference between journalism and cyber crime”.
On the other hand, police advised the public to refrain from circulating unauthentic information through social media platforms. The Network of Women in Media India, of which Zahra is a member, said the case against her should be withdrawn.
“The charges are preposterous in the extreme and amount to rank intimidation of a journalist who has won acclaim for her work, which documents the lived experiences of the people of Kashmir,” said the group in a statement.
Jammu and Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts, and claimed by both in full. A small sliver is also held by China. Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars — in 1948, 1965, 1971– two of them over Kashmir.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or unification with neighboring Pakistan. According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have reportedly been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.