'State Has Hounded Masrat Zahra': 450 Activists, Scholars Condemn UAPA Use on Journalists

The signatories, who work in institutions across the world, also criticised the use of an anti-terrorism law to quell the voices of journalists, especially women, in J&K.

New Delhi: Nearly 450 gender rights activists, scholars, professionals and organisations have signed a statement condemning the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act charges against Kashmiri photojournalist Masrat Zahra.

As Mudasir Ahmad reported for The Wire, the the police on Monday, April 20, said it had registered a case against Zahra, under Section 13 of UAPA and Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code, in the cyber police station, Srinagar.

The charges under UAPA are for “uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquillity” and for “uploading posts that tantamount to glorify the anti-national activities and dent the image of law enforcing agencies besides causing disaffection against the country.” (sic)

As has been noted by the civil society members statement, “Masrat’s social media accounts merely document everyday on-goings in Kashmir, a part of her duties and responsibilities as a journalist.” They do not suggest anti-national content in any manner, says the statement.

The signatories, who work in institutions across the world, also criticised the use of an anti-terrorism law to quell the voices of journalists. They wrote on how it affected press freedom as a whole, and in Kashmir – where it was always under threat – in particular.

The signatories pointed to the charges against Masrat and other journalists such Asif Sultan, Peerzada Ashiq, and Gowhar Geelani as “yet another nail to the coffin of a free press in Kashmir.” The signatories also pointed to the “large scale witch hunt” against Muslim scholar-activists who have led various movements, especially at the time of a health crisis.

Also read: Use of UAPA Against Journalists is Last Nail in Coffin for Press Freedom in Kashmir

On the UAPA, under which Masrat has been charged, the statement said:

“Already a draconian law, the UAPA was further amended in August last year, enabling the state to designate individuals as “terrorists” without requiring to provide further substantiation, and has been repeatedly misused to target dissenting voices.”

“Women in highly militarised zones, such as Kashmir, have unique battles, struggles, and stories owing to living lives under the high handedness of a heavily militarised regime,” the statement further noted, delving into the nature of multi-faceted violence faced by women in the region.

“They bear the brunt of reduced access to public services and places, increasing policing of their movements and sexuality and gender-specific intimidation owing to the mass presence of armed forces and the impunity for any crimes committed. All these different hues of stories of women ought to be told.”

Pointing to the particular fearlessness of Kashmiri women journalists, the signatories asserted that they would not be standing by as “state machineries hound her for telling stories of pain and distress suffered by women in Kashmir…”

Also read: ‘The Assault Is on Journalism’: An Interview With Kashmiri Journalist Gowhar Geelani

The statement ends with a call to the J&K cybercrime cell to:

1) Withdraw the preposterous and far-fetched charges under UAPA against Masrat Zahra. 

2) Withdraw similar charges under other criminal provisions against other Kashmiri journalists. 

The signatories also called upon the central government to stop arresting dissenting activists and scholars, and also safeguard the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression for all persons.