'Security Threat to India': Passports of 2 J&K Journalists – With No Criminal Cases – Suspended

India's ranking in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index slipped further to 161 out of 180 countries from 142 in 2021 and 150 in 2023. The fall in the index was in considerable measure due to the treatment of journalists in J&K.

Srinagar: Authorities have suspended the passports of some journalists and at least one political activist in Kashmir among others, terming them “security threats to India”, The Wire can confirm.

Invoking Section 10(3) of The Passports Act, 1967, the Regional Passport Office in Srinagar has sent out mails to at least two journalists and a political activist among others, informing them that their passports have been suspended.

Section 10(3) empowers the passport authority to impound or revoke the passport of an Indian citizen if it “deems it necessary so to do in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of India, friendly relations of India with any foreign country, or in the interests of the general public.”

The email, which has been sent out from passport.admin@passportindia.gov.in, also directs them to contact the Srinagar office on Boulevard Road near Nehru Park, “Action will be taken against you if unable to contact before the date as mentioned,” the mail, reviewed by The Wire, states.

Srinagar Passport Officer, Devinder Singh, said that there are “instructions from intelligence agencies” on the basis of which some passports of Kashmiri residents are being impounded.

“We have got instructions to suspend the passports of dozens of persons but I can’t disclose the exact number. Some of them have been intimated about the action being taken,” Singh told The Wire, refusing to elaborate.

Sources said that the list of the people whose passports are being impounded has been prepared by the central and J&K security agencies and it includes names of some journalists, academicians, lawyers, political activists and others.

Also read: Passport Denials and Travel Bans Are Now Part of Life in J&K

No criminal cases against either journalist 

The list includes a Srinagar-based senior journalist who has also worked with The Hindustan Times in New Delhi at the editor-level before shifting to Kashmir some years ago. It also includes a mid-career journalist who works with a Delhi-based magazine.

None of the two journalists, whose passports have been already impounded, are accused in any criminal case, the journalists told The Wire, and no explanation has been provided to them by the passport authority about the reason for the suspension of their passports.

However, both of them have been questioned in the past by security agencies in connection with their reportage on Kashmir.

A source said that the list comprises 98 people from Kashmir. Another said that there were “more than 200” people in the list. However, officials didn’t confirm the actual number of people whose passports have been or are in the process of getting cancelled.

The Wire tried to reach out to Additional Director General of Police (Kashmir), Vijay Kumar, on the issue. He, however, didn’t answer repeated calls and text messages. The story will be updated if and when he responds.

PDP worker is a close aide of Waheed Parra’s

A political activist who works with Peoples Democratic Party and is a close aide of Waheed Parra, the party’s youth president, is among those whose passports have been impounded by the authorities. The activist too has been termed a “security threat to India”.

Parra, who was among the political detainees held in the aftermath of the reading down of Article 370 in 2019, was barred from leaving Kashmir and joining a leadership programme at the Yale University earlier this year by authorities.

Sources said that some journalists were also called up for questioning by J&K Police’s counter-intelligence unit in Srinagar recently. At least four journalists, who spoke with The Wire on the condition of anonymity, said that the investigators asked them about a ‘Chinese journalist’ who is believed to have visited Kashmir recently .

“I was asked whether I met this Chinese journalist but I had no idea what they were talking about, and I told them so,” said one of the journalists, wishing to remain anonymous. He said that the investigators ran him through a questionnaire comprising dozens of “personal and professional” questions, including details of bank payments and travel history.

An ongoing process

This is not the first time that authorities have imposed restrictions on the movement of some Kashmiri activists and journalists, who work with national and international organisations. Free speech activists have alleged that the “criminalisation of journalism” is part of a wider crackdown on free speech by the Union government which directly runs Jammu and Kashmir.

Earlier this year, Sanna Irshad Mattoo, 29, a Srinagar-based photojournalist and a Magnum Foundation fellow, was stopped from flying to the US by immigration authorities at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport.

Mattoo, who was part of the Reuters team that won Pulitzer for the coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic in India, was earlier also stopped from flying to Paris where she was scheduled to participate in a book launch and photography exhibition.

Also read: Kashmiri Student Activist Waiting for a Passport Ten Months After Application

Earlier, Zahid Rafiq, a Srinagar-based journalist who has worked with The Hindu and Tehelka magazine, was prevented from leaving Kashmir for a teaching fellowship at Cornell University in the United States.

India has ratified the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. According to Article 12 of the Covenant, everyone has the right to leave any country, including their own. This right to travel is also included in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

At least four Kashmiri journalists presently languishing in jail under preventive detention are facing anti-terror investigations.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, at least 35 Kashmiri journalists have faced “police interrogation, raids, threats, physical assault or criminal cases” in connection to their work since 2019 when the Union government bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir and downgraded the erstwhile state into two union territories.

India’s ranking in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index slipped further to 161 out of 180 countries from 142 in 2021 and 150 in 2023 with the fall blamed on the punitive action against journalists in Kashmir.