The Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP), in a statement on Monday, 20 April, condemned the FIR against photojournalist from Jammu and Kashmir Masrat Zahra, who was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on Saturday, 18 April, for allegedly uploading posts that glorify “anti-national activities” on social media.
“The allegation of the Kashmir police that she uploaded anti-national posts on social media and that they were written with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquility is a travesty calculated to intimidate the media and have a chilling effect on free speech, in a state that has already been suffering since August 2019 from severe restrictions”, the statement read.
The FMP added that in reality Zahra’s social media posts “have presented case studies of the prolonged humanitarian crisis in what has been the most devastating conflict zone in India,” adding that the cases against the journalist should be immediately closed.
Zahra has been booked for her Facebook posts that glorify militants, Superintendent of Police (SP) Cyber Cell Kashmir, Tahir Ashraf told Deccan Herald. “Her posts are a threat to law and order and spread misinformation,” he said.
Ashraf also put up one of the “glimpses” of what is allegedly “incriminating material which attracts the provisions of UAPA and the IPC.”
The caption of the photograph reads "Kashmir Shiite Muslims seen carrying a picture of Hizbul Mujahideen commander shaheed Burhan Wani."
With the amendment of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, not just organisations, but individuals too can be designated as ‘terrorists’.
To remove the ‘terrorist’ label, the organisation or individual has to appeal to a government-appointed review committee instead of a court. The individual can challenge the review committee's decision in court.
Zahra told Scroll.in that she was asked to immediately report to the Cyber Police Station in Srinagar on Saturday evening, without any mention of an FIR.
“Since there was a lockdown and I didn’t have a curfew pass, I told them that I cannot come immediately,” she said, adding that she was still pressured to go.
Zahra then reportedly approached senior journalists for help. She said that she did not receive any more calls from the police after that but saw social media posts about the charges against her.
“The police didn’t call me directly to inform me about the FIR. I came to know about it from my colleagues,” she told Scroll.in.
Reacting to the development, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor wrote on Twitter, “The FIR against J&K journalist Masrat Zahra for 'anti-national' posts is another instance of the Govt abusing UAPA to curb dissident voices.”
Another journalist, Peerzada Ashiq, who reports for The Hindu, was reportedly questioned by the police for alleged inaccuracies.
Condemning the incident, Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter wrote on Twitter, “Any dissent or counter-opinion has been outlawed and criminalised. Filing FIRs and invoking stringent laws meant for criminals is a blot on democracy.”
(With inputs from Deccan Herald and Scroll.in)