Kashmiri Journalist Aakash Hassan ‘Barred’ From Flying to Sri Lanka
Independent Kashmiri journalist Aakash Hassan regularly contributes to ‘The Guardian’ and has covered human rights and politics in Kashmir and the rest of the country for reputed media outlets like ‘The Intercept’, ‘South China Morning Post’ and ‘Al Jazeera’.
Srinagar: Independent Kashmiri journalist Aakash Hassan was stopped from flying to the Sri Lankan capital Colombo by immigration officials at the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport on Tuesday in what many say is part of a larger clampdown on journalists in Jammu and Kashmir.
The immigration officials, Hassan alleged in a series of tweets, did not provide any reason for stopping him from travelling to Colombo to cover the ongoing political-economic crisis. After allegedly taking his passport and boarding pass, the immigration officials made him sit in a room for nearly five hours, he further alleged.
“Immigration officials at IGI airport New Delhi barred me from boarding a flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. I was headed to report on the current crises in the country. The immigration officials took my passport, boarding pass and have made me sit in a room for last four hours (sic),” Hassan tweeted.
“The officials are not giving any me any (sic) reason for why I am not allowed. A staff from the airlines I was travelling in told me that officials have directed them to offload my luggage from the aircraft,” Hassan further tweeted alleging that he was
“questioned” by two officials about his “background” and “travel purpose”.
After making him allegedly “wait for five hours” without even offering him water”, Hassan said he was handed over his passport and boarding pass with a “red rejection stamp of ‘Cancelled Without Prejudice’.”
Hassan regularly contributes to The Guardian and has covered human rights and politics in Kashmir and the rest of the country for reputed media outlets like The Intercept, South China Morning Post and Al Jazeera. He was recently nominated to the final list of One World Media Awards 2022 in the ‘New Voice’ category.
Hassan is the fourth journalist since last year and the second since July to have been barred from travelling outside. On July 2, photojournalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo, who won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize this year, was stopped from flying to Paris, where she was expected to participate in the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020 programme.
The incident comes at the time when Chief Justice of India NV Ramana has made a series of observations on free media terming it as the “backbone of democracy”.
Slamming the government for “intolerance to truth”, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president and former chief minister Mehboooba Mufti tweeted: “Immediately after CJIs remarks on the role of journalists in a democracy, @AakashHassan was barred from travelling abroad. Its (sic) no secret that GOI wants to crush the very backbone & fourth pillar of our democracy because of its intolerance to the truth.”
International rights bodies and media watchdogs have on several occasions since the abrogation of Article 370 and the scrapping of 35A in 2019 underlined that there is immense pressure on journalists in Kashmir. At least, four journalists are in jail while others have faced raids and summons.
India’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index fell from 142 in 2021 to 150 this year out of 180 countries, according to Reporters Sans Frontières.
“It is appalling that journalists are barred from travelling without letting them know the reason. Journalists have their commitments and dreams and the Constitution gives the right to travel to everyone. In the case of Aakash, travel restrictions mean that he cannot do reporting beyond India. The authorities now want to crush the careers of those who report truthfully,” another independent journalist Qural ul Ain told Newsclick.
Condemning the action against Hassan, the Journalist Federation of Kashmir in its statement called it an “ugly pattern of harassing journalists” in Kashmir and a “tactic” by the authorities to coerce them into not reporting facts on the ground.
“Journalists in Kashmir have always worked under perilous conditions holding up values of press freedom in the face of dangers to life and liberty. For a vibrant press to flourish in a society, authorities have to move beyond hollow claims of respect for press freedom and work towards a conducive environment where a journalist can report the facts on ground, express opinion on social media without fear and travel without restrictions,” the statement read.
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