Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir police have booked a photojournalist under the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for allegedly uploading posts on social media believed to be “anti-national”.
Twenty-six-year-old Masrat Zahra, a photojournalist based in Kashmir, was booked under the UAPA law that allows the government to proscribe individuals as terrorists and empowers the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to probe cases. Under the law, Zahra can be jailed for up to seven years.
In an official statement, the police have charged Zahra of posting content that can “provoke the public to disturb law and order”.
“The user is uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquillity,” the police said in a press release.
Zahra, whose work has featured in leading national and international news outlets, says she received a call from the police’s cyber cell earlier on Saturday following which she informed her colleagues and office-bearers of Kashmir Press Club (KPC).
“The police called me and asked me to appear at the cyber cell police station, Cargo in Srinagar. The press club body later called me back and said the issue has been sorted out and I don’t have to appear now,” Zahra said.
The journalist, however, on Monday received another call from the police asking her to appear at the police station and in the meantime, the police issued the statement that she has been booked under UAPA.
Stating that journalism in Kashmir had never been easy, especially after the abrogation of Article 370, Kashmir Press Club condemned the FIR against Zahra. The body, while expressing solidarity with Zahra, demanded that the charges be dropped against her.
“The police have booked a young and promising female photojournalist Masrat Zahra under 13 UA (P) Act and 505-IPC. She was summoned to Cyber Police Station, Aircargo in Srinagar on April 18, 2020. However, after Kashmir Press Club and Directorate of Information intervened at the highest level, the police dropped the summon,” the body said.
The press club body said that the J&K Police have been summoning other journalists from past week. Earlier, on Sunday, journalist Peerzada Ashiq of The Hindu was among those who were summoned and the police asked him to explain the alleged “factual inaccuracies” in a story that was published the same day.
“While Peerzada explained his case to police in Srinagar, he was asked to travel to South Kashmir, some 40 kilometers away in evening, and present himself before a police officer in Anantnag district. He returned late in the midnight to his home in Srinagar but in the meantime his family was terrified and concerned about his safety,” the journalists’ body added.
Another reporter of the Kashmir Observer newspaper, Mushtaq Ahmad, was allegedly thrashed and arrested by the police in Bandipora when he was out during the lockdown period for his professional work. He was released only after securing a bail from the court, the statement said.
“It is very unfortunate that when the world is in a grip of pandemic and when we need to stand together to combat the Covid-19, police have started filing cases against journalists and harassing them,” the body said.
Also read: J&K: Slain Militants’ Families Allege Authorities Not Allowing for Last Rites