Masrat Zahra booked under UAPA: Kashmiri photojournalist's work focussed mostly on women, conflict reporting in Valley

The charges against Masarat Zahra, a woman photojournalist from Kashmir, under the Unlawful (Activites )Prevention, Act have attracted strong criticism from journalists and activists, who have alleged that registering the case amounts to intimidation and silencing of the press.

FP Staff April 20, 2020 20:00:26 IST
Masrat Zahra booked under UAPA: Kashmiri photojournalist's work focussed mostly on women, conflict reporting in Valley

The charges against Masarat Zahra, a woman photojournalist from Kashmir, under the Unlawful (Activites )Prevention, Act have attracted strong criticism from journalists and activists, who have alleged that registering the case amounts to intimidation and silencing of the press.

Masrat Zahra booked under UAPA Kashmiri photojournalists work focussed mostly on women conflict reporting in Valley

Kashmiri photojournalist Masrat Zahra was booked under the UAPA.

Zahra was booked under the UAPA for “uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and promote offence against public tranquillity”, reported The Indian Express.

According to the report, a statement issued by the Jammu and Kashmir Police on Monday said that a case  has been registered against Masrat Zahra under section of 13 UA(P) Act and 505-IPC in Cyber Police Station, Kashmir Zone.

"Cyber Police Station received information through reliable sources that one Facebook user namely “Masrat Zahra” is uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquillity,” said the statement

“The Facebook user is also believed to be uploading photographs which can provoke the public to disturb law and order. The user is also uploading posts that tantamount to glorify the anti-national activities and dent the image of law enforcing agencies besides causing disaffection against the country," it added.

Zahra's work, which focuses on women and children in conflict areas, has previously appeared in publications such as Al Jazeera, the Quint and Washington Post and received accolades.

In a piece she wrote for Al Jazeera in January this year, Zahra says that her work is driven by a desire to document the conflict in Kashmir through a woman's perspective - her own and that of the women around her.

"I think all my pictures reflect day-to-day life in my homeland. In a conflict zone like ours, every picture in its own way, even in this beautiful Himalayan landscape, describes the tragedy of Kashmir. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict, most of them civilians," she wrote in Al Jazeera.

While police haven't specified which post of hers has attracted the charges, a report in ThePrint quoted police officials citing  a picture post she tweeted from her 2019 article in The New Humanitarian.

Zahra told Scroll that she was summoned to the Cyber Police Station on Saturday but was not informed of the charges against her. “Since there was a lockdown and I didn’t have a curfew pass, I told them (the police) that I cannot come immediately,” Zahra said. “They pressurised me to come but I didn’t go. They didn’t mention a first information report.”

The journalist added that she had come to know about the FIR through social media posts on Monday.Early today (Monday) morning, I saw some tweets doing rounds that a woman journalist has been booked under UAPA,” she said. “The police didn’t call me directly to inform me about the FIR. I came to know about it from my colleagues," she said.

She told The Print that the case was an attempt to silence her as she has been working to bring out the stories which are sought to be hidden. “I am among the very few female photojournalists in Kashmir and have been working really hard to learn and to create my space for the past four years. They (police) want to silence me. They want to suppress me as I bring out the repressed voices and stories of Kashmir,” she said.

According to a report in The Indian Express, Zahra isn't the first journalist in Kashmir to be booked under the UAPA. Asif Sultan, an assistant editor with the Kashmir Narrator was booked  and arrested under the draconian law in 2018 for a story on slain Hizbul Mujaheedin commander Burhan Wani, for which he had interviewed Wani's associates. According to the report, Sultan was booked for allegedly providing logistical support to a banned militant organisation and is still under detention.

However, an amendment to the UAPA last year widened the scope of the Act to allow the government to designate both individuals and organisations as terrorists and gave the NIA powers to seize the properties of individuals booked under the Act. Persons charged under the Act can be imprisoned for a period of seven years.

The amendments to the Act raised fears that the it would give the ruling dispensation unfettered powers to curb the right to dissent and pleas challenging the amendment on the grounds that it violates Article 14 of the Constitution were filed in the Supreme Court.

Subsequently, social media users in Kashmir who used Virtual Private Networks to circumvent the ban on social media sites in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370, were also booked under the Act for "misusing social media".

Journalists and activists have taken to Twitter to condemn the framing of charges against the photojournalist under the stringent Act, which has also been previously used against human rights activists such Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde, who were arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection to the Elgaar Praishad case.

Kashmir -based journalists have condemned the charged under the anti-terrorism law, calling them outrageous and expressed solidarity withe their colleague.

The Network of Women in Media, India has called for the withdrawal of the FIR against the photojournalist, saying that they amount amount to "rank intimidation of a journalist."

"Her special sensitivity towards the plight of women living under conflict in one of the most highly militarised zones in the world has been featured in both national and international publications of repute. Even a cursory look at Masrat Zahra’s Facebook account reveal that her stories and photographs are deeply empathetic and accurate reports of the ground reality. Photographs do not lie but her exceptional work as a photojournalist obviously causes discomfort among the powers that be," said a statement issued by the NWMI.

The Kashmir Press Club has released a statement condemning the charges against Zahra and other incidents of intimidation of journalists in Kashmir and has asked for Home Minsiter Amit Shah to intervene.

"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 has started filing cases against journalists and harassing them," it said.

"This is unacceptable for journalists of Kashmir who are well within their rights to seek freedom of expression and speech as guaranteed under the constitution like other parts of the country."

Updated Date:

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.

also read

Mamata Banerjee announces Rs 50,000 for each Durga Puja committee in West Bengal
India

Mamata Banerjee announces Rs 50,000 for each Durga Puja committee in West Bengal

The chief minister also announced a one time grant of Rs 2,000 for 75,000 hawkers of the state as they had faced a difficult time due to the lockdown

If talks can happen with China, why not with other neighbour, asks Farooq Abdullah in Lok Sabha
Politics

If talks can happen with China, why not with other neighbour, asks Farooq Abdullah in Lok Sabha

The Srinagar MP and Natioanl Conference president advocated talks with Pakistan, saying that "border skirmishes have been rising and people are dying"

Jammu and Kashmir: Three militants killed in encounter in Srinagar's Batamaloo; two CRPF personnel injured
India

Jammu and Kashmir: Three militants killed in encounter in Srinagar's Batamaloo; two CRPF personnel injured

Security forces launched a cordon and search operation in Firdousabad locality in Batamaloo at around 2.30 am following a tip-off, officials said