Bangkok/Kathmandu: The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) have called for an end to “intimidation and criminalisation” of journalists and human rights defenders in Jammu and Kashmir.
Referring to recent police cases against three Kashmiri journalists, Masrat Zahra, Peerzada Ashiq and Gowhar Geelani, a joint statement by FORUM-ASIA and FIDH said that such incidents “constitute a serious violation of their fundamental rights and freedoms”. The statement said that the “series of state intimidation” against the trio “shows a concerning trend of repressing dissenting voices by the Indian Government”.
It further said that as a photojournalist, Zahra has been reporting issues of women and children in conf lict in Jammu and Kashmir on her social media. The Cyber Police Station in Kashmir, which has booked the three journalists, the statement said, “has increased surveillance, while harassing and forcing journalists and human rights defenders to post apologies on social media for ‘indulging in unlawful activities through posts and writings on social media platform.’”
“FORUM-ASIA and FIDH condemn such harassment and urge the Government of India not to muzzle dissenting opinions, ” it said. The FORUM-ASIA’s documentation, the statement said, shows that journalists and media workers are ranked as one of the most targeted groups of defenders in India. In the past year, at least 68 cases of abuses against human rights defenders were recorded.The statement said that “crackdown on journalists for carrying out their professional work is a violation of their fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression”. It has urged the Government of India to ensure that any measure limiting the freedom of expression, assembly and association on the Internet is based on clearly-defined criteria in accordance with international law including international human rights law.
The statement added that that journalists should be allowed to operate free from any form of state surveillance, intimidation and censorship. Condemning the “abuse of counter- terrorism laws and the judicial harassment of journalists”, the statement said that such acts are “against the values of democracy, which is enshrined in Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution”. It cal led cal led upon the state authorities to immediately drop all charges against these journalists and end state survei l lances of journalists and human rights defenders