Srinagar: Kashmir Press Club today took strong exception for filing a case against photojournalist Masrat Zahra.
Zahra was summoned to Cyber Police Station, in Srinagar on April 18. However after Kashmir Press Club and Directorate of Information intervened at the highest level, the police dropped the summon, a statement issued said.
“But now it emerges the police have filed a case against her with stringent charges and stringent acts and as per the conversation with Masrat, she has been asked to come to the Police Station concerned on Tuesday, April 21,” it said.
She has been booked under 13 UA (P) Act and 505-IPC, according to police.
Masrat’s work, as a freelance photo-journalist has appeared previously in Washington Post, Al-Jazeera, Quint, and Caravaan among others.
The KPC also condemned recent cases of harassment and summons to journalists by police in Kashmir.
While journalism in Kashmir had never been easy, challenges and hardships have multiplied for journalists since August 05, 2019, it said.
It said that even during the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, journalists in Kashmir have been called to police stations and forced to present themselves to explain their stories.
There are other cases where scribes have been harassed for traveling to report their stories, it added.
“Police on Sunday also verbally summoned a senior journalist, Peerzada Ashiq of The Hindu and asked him to explain the alleged factual inaccuracies in a story that was published the same day. While Peerzada explained his case to police in Srinagar, he was asked to travel to south Kashmir, some 40 kilometers away in evening, and present himself before a police officer in Anantnag district “ it said.
He returned late in the midnight to his home in Srinagar but in the meantime his family was terrified and concerned about his safety, it said.
Earlier also a reporter of Kashmir Observer newspaper Mushtaq Ahmad was thrashed and arrested by the police in Bandipora when he was out during lockdown period related to his professional work. He was released only after securing a bail from the court.
The Kashmir Press Club has reiterated that J&K government especially the police, need to understand there is a vast difference between journalism and cyber crime.
While the government has every right to rebut a story of a journalist and allow a journalist to respond, cases against journalists for their stories and work are unwarranted and outrightly illegal and draconian, the KPC said.
It said that there was a full fledged government department -information and public relations – to deal with the issues between state and the journalists and any issue should be left for them to resolve.
It said it was unfortunate that when the world is in a grip of pandemic and when we need to stand together to combat the Covid-19, police has started filing cases against journalists and harassing them.
The KPC called the police summons unacceptable for journalists of Kashmir who are well within their rights to seek freedom of expression and speech as guaranteed under the Constitution like other parts of the country.
It also sought intervention of Home Minister Amit Shah, LG GC Murmu and Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh to issue direction that this harassment comes to end.
The KPC also expressed solidarity with Masrat Zahra and demanded that the charges be dropped against her.
It also sought the cooperation and support of Indian and international journalist bodies at a time when the journalism in the region is under constant onslaught.
The KPC will also formally write to the Press Council of India and other bodies on these cases which seem to be aimed at pressuring journalists in the valley, it said.