Hundreds of Kashmiri 'Influencers' Barred by Centre from Travelling Abroad: Report

A number of prominent Kashmiris have been stopped from leaving the country over the last three months, but none of them were properly told why.

New Delhi: The government of Jammu and Kashmir, which is under the direct control of the Union government, has put over 450 people – including journalists, lawyers, businessmen and politicians – on a ‘no-fly list’, preventing them from travelling abroad, the Economic Times has reported. The move, which comes in the wake of the Centre’s decision to rescind J&K’s autonomy, is aimed at ensuring Kashmiri voices do not influence international public opinion.

On August 5, the government read down Article 370 of the constitution and announced that Jammu and Kashmir would be bifurcated into two Union territories. Apart from the decision to ban internet access in the valley and shut down the mobile telephone network there, the authorities also apparently decided that no “influencer” from the Kashmir Valley should be able to travel abroad.

“A lot of things are in the pipeline for J&K and administration has to take steps to ensure that things happen smoothly. Some people could create trouble in that smooth transition,” a senior police official told Economic Times.

Another official said that the people on the list had been chosen because of their contacts abroad, and that it could not officially be called an ‘exit control list’. Rather, the official said, it is a temporary ‘no-fly list’.

Ever since the August 5 decision, which came with a communications clampdown, movement blockade and large-scale detentions, a number of prominent Kashmiris have been stopped at Indira Gandhi International Airport, including IAS officer-turned-politician Shah Faesal, rights activist Bilal Bhat and journalist Gowhar Geelani.

Also read: In Kashmir, the Justice System Is in Limbo

The individuals who were stopped from travelling said they weren’t given any specific reasons or told why they weren’t being allowed to leave the country. “I wasn’t told anything specific. They just informed [me] after repeated request that my name is on the list and I won’t be allowed to travel. I tried to seek answers, but they didn’t say anything,” lawyer Uzair Ronga, who was also stopped from travelling, told the Economic Times.

The Wire reached out to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ official spokesperson to ask which law this travel ban list had been made under. The article will be update when the ministry responds.

The decision not to let people out of the country for “preventive” reasons is legally questionable. In 1978, the Supreme Court held in Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India that the right to travel abroad is well within the ambit of Article 21 of the constitution (right to life and personal liberty). The court had then also pulled up the authorities for not providing enough of a reason for impounding the petitioner’s passport.

More recently, in 2015, the Delhi high court set aside a lookout notice against Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai, based on which she had been stopped from travelling to the UK.

“In this case, Ms. Pillai’s right to travel abroad and interact with relevant stake holders (i.e., the British Parliamentarians), to persuade them, to have entities incorporated in their country, to fall in line, with the developmental ethos, which is close to her ideology and belief, cannot be impeded only because it is not in sync with policy perspective of the executive. …Amongst the varied freedoms conferred on an individual (i.e., the citizen), is the right of free speech and expression, which necessarily includes the right to criticize and dissent. Criticism, by an individual, may not be palatable; even so, it cannot be muzzled,” the court said then.