Journalism criminalized in IIOJK, says exiled Kashmiri photojournalist

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 Kashmiri photojournalist, Masrat Zahra, living in exile since March 2021 in the United States, has said that Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir is right now going through the darkest phase for journalism where journalists face continuous harassment and intimidation from the occupation authorities.

Masrat Zahra from IIOJK, is being persecuted by the Indian government for her work, which focuses on human rights abuses of women and children in Kashmir. She has been publishing in publications such as The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, TRT World, The Sun, The New Humanitarian, and Getty Images, among others.

Masrat Zahra in a media interview said that journalism has been criminalized in Kashmir where journalists have been arrested for doing their work. She said, “It is a difficult situation to be in. Many of my colleagues have been incarcerated now for years, simply for their work. I fear if I go back, I might meet the same fate”.

She added, “Four of my colleagues are in jail; one has been there since 2018. Right now, there are no stories coming out of Kashmir because of government surveillance. News has dried up. We have some brilliant young independent journalists in Kashmir who will go to any extent for the story, even risk their lives. But Kashmir is right now going through the darkest phase for journalists. We face continuous harassment and intimidation from the state. Everyone is being called to the police stations. You have to face immediate consequences for the stories you do. Journalists’ homes get raided. Their gadgets get confiscated. There is no privacy.”

“Over the past few years, several Kashmiri journalists have been arrested and charged with offenses such as sedition or under UAPA, which is a draconian law that India often uses to stifle voice and dissent. It is deeply concerning and has a chilling effect on press freedom in Kashmir.”

Zahra said that she was working as a photojournalist in IIOJK since 2015, focusing on intimate stories about women and children. She said in 2018, she drew the attention of the Indian government when she shared her photo, covering a cordon and search operation, where she was the only civilian present there.

“.… in April 2020, I was charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA)”, she said, adding “Usually Indian authorities book ‘terrorists’ under this law, and I face imprisonment for seven years under this charge if they detain me. However, immediate solidarity from people and international organizations prevented my arrest. There was a hashtag campaign, #IstandwithMasratZahra, which was a backlash against the government’s attempt to silence me.”

She said, “The Indian government had put me on a no-fly list, like many of my Kashmiri colleagues, rights activists, and businessmen, after learning of my departure. If I return, I may face imprisonment or threat to my life for my work and speaking truth to power.”

She said, “Most of the work I share on social media is from my time in Kashmir, but I am forced to self-censor as the situation there is critical, and my family still resides there.”

Furthermore, she said her family has been facing harassment every now and then by the police. “My father was beaten, and my mother was also harassed. When I shared a picture of my father’s bruises on social media, the police accused me of planning this with my family to stay in the news. They keep inquiring from my family about my whereabouts,” she added.

She said, “Now, I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to Kashmir. Journalism has been criminalized in India, not just in Kashmir”.

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Disclaimer: Journalism criminalized in IIOJK, says exiled Kashmiri photojournalist - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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