During the pandemic days, while everyone is together in fighting covid-19, the police forces in Jammu and Kashmir are engaged with the witch-hunting of journalists in the valley. While the national media is trying to mislead the world by hiding all the sufferings of people after the scrapping of article 370 from the rule book, it was some of the Kashmiri media who showed up the courage to expose the realities to the world. News channels like BBC, The Wire and The Quint had telecasted the scenario of Kashmiri people as original reports from the valley. It brought a huge impact on international perception on the question of Kashmir against the Indian state.
Recently, Masrat Zahra, a Kashmiri photojournalist, has been booked under UAPA and various sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC) for allegedly posting ‘anti- national’ facebook posts. She has been working as a freelance photojournalist since 2016. All of a sudden she was asked to be reported before the Srinagar cyber police, last Thursday. ‘Why Zahra?’ is not a complicated question if one sees her photographs. She was one of the few brave journalists who spoke to the world through the photos that she captured from the hot realities of Kashmir. Each of the photos she shot were important to understand the ‘oppression’ that Kashmiri people are going through. And this provoked the Indian Government, obviously. “What I posted on Facebook are my own photos which have already been published in international media. I have done nothing illegal other than my work. This is part of my job,” she says on her Facebook account.
The alleged ‘anti-national’ photo is of a Kashmiri family mourning the loss of a baby boy in police firing. The picture which she shared on Facebook on 18th April is also a remarkable one. In that picture, a woman named Arifa Khan Is weeping with the blood stained dress of her husband in hand. Her husband Abdul Kadir Sheikh was shot dead by the Army. ‘I can’t stop my anger’ was the caption of the picture. This is the only common sentiment of the people in the valley, that’s what all she said and did. Also police posted a photograph by Zahra from her Instagram account in September 2018, showing protesters holding a poster of Burhan Wani, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander who was killed in an encounter before he was labelled as ‘Shaheed Burhan Wani’ in which the description of the picture duly reflects that and it took more than a year for the police to decide whether this picture deserves a penal action.
This is a perfect example that when the state determines to lock down someone who is a threat to it, it goes to any limit or makes new descriptions to cover the press meet Along with her colleagues, Peerzada Ashiq and Gowhar Geelani, both are from The Hindu Srinagar bureau. Birsa Ashiq’s news report was about the family members of two diseased militants whose bodies were dis-owned. Both of them were killed by the army in an encounter at ‘Pairoo Keegum’ in ‘Shopian’ on April 17, but their bodies were withheld and buried in Baramulla district in North Kashmir, away from the family. The explanation of the police about this case makes me wonder, they say because of the funeral of Jaish militant Sajjad who was killed earlier gathered by thousands of people despite the lockdown of Covid19. In the fear of people gathering for the funeral of this person leads them to take away the body to Baramulla. Police authorities were making senseless justification to deny the body to the family.
In this case, families of the militants had wrongly conveyed to Ashiq that the police had given them permission to unbury the bodies. Ashiq investigated himself, and called the ‘Shopian’ magistrate to cross-check the claim, only to be ignored without any response. The press release by the police says that the news was published without any confirmation from the district officials. Along with her, journalist Geelani was also arrested for protesting against ‘Masrat’ Zahra’s arrest. Anyhow, this made a shock to the journalists in the valley because he was booked under various laws meant to be dealt with terrorism.
For 145 days, Kashmiris had no internet. It had sabotaged public life and put the common people in trouble. The removal of Article 370 and the restrictions thereafter continue to exist in Kashmir. The government tries to hide one lockdown by another lockdown.
Even in this time of coronavirus pandemic, journalists in Kashmir have been called to the police stations, leaving them mentally disconcerted. These days it’s disheartening to note that the cyber units and IT cells closely monitor every sentence what the journalists are telecasting: a situation very similar to when the country declared national emergency. A first-hand denial of article 19, freedom of press, is blatantly happening in the valley.