The J&K police has booked independent photojournalist Masrat Zahra under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for allegedly uploading posts that glorify “anti-national activities” on social media, as per the The KashmirMonitor. SheThePeople reached out to the journalist in question, and asked her about this development and the kind of posts the police is raising an issue with.
She said, “I am only sharing my archived and published work on my social media handles like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Recently I shared a picture from a mental health story that was published in The New Humanitarian and that picture was shared widely. It was of a woman who is a PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) patient and gets frequent panic attacks even two decades after her husband was gunned down in a fake encounter. It could be because of this image.”
The journalist has been booked under the UAPA Act which as per the Home Affairs website is “an Act to provide for the more effective prevention of certain unlawful activities of individuals and associations.” Some of its clauses suggest that the government agencies can carry out investigations in these cases. The punishment under UAPA can be anywhere from two year to ten years or more. Read the act here.
“Cyber police received information through reliable sources that one Facebook user namely Masrat Zahra is uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquillity,” said the report in Kashmir Monitor which quoted the police’s statement.
“The user is also uploading posts that tantamount to glorify the anti-national activities and dent the image of law enforcing agencies besides causing disaffection against the country,” added the statement.
Reacting to this, Masrat Zahra says she has no political agenda and her work is authentic. “I am a journalist and not a social activist. I don’t have any political agenda and as a journalist, our work is to bring out authentic and verified stories without any bias. Our ideologies don’t come in between our work. I only share the work that I have been doing from the last couple of years in Kashmir. If a CRPF jawan is killed in front of me, I’ll go and take pictures and upload them too similarly as I have done in the past.”
I am a journalist and not a social activist – Masrat Zahra
The police has called her for further investigation to which she says, “I am not able to talk to my family about this complaint and even they don’t have any idea about UAPA under which I am booked. They know that an FIR has been filed against me by the SP of the cyber police station.”
Another journalist from Kashmir who didn’t want to be named told SheThePeople on the condition of anonymity, “Masrat is trying to create a space for women in visual journalism majorly dominated by men and this is a message to silence us all. This is a message to silence journalism overall because if they can do this with a woman they can do anything with men.”
A women journalists’ collective Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) also took cognizance of the complaint and released a statement condemning the action of the police. They also sought that the FIR lodged against Masrat Zahra be dropped. “NWMI demands that police and security forces stop all such intimidatory and harassing tactics against journalists,” the statement reads.
“I am a journalist and not a social activist. I don’t have any political agenda and as a journalist, our work is to bring out authentic and verified stories without any bias. Our ideologies don’t come in between our work. I only share the work that I have been doing from the last couple of years in Kashmir.”
It adds, “NWMI believes that the charges are preposterous in the extreme and amount to rank intimidation of a journalist who has won acclaim for her work, which documents the travails of people of Kashmir. Her special sensitivity towards the plight of women living under conflict in one of the most highly militarized zones in the world has been featured in both national and international publications of repute. Even a cursory look at Masrat Zahra’s Facebook account will show that her stories and photographs are deeply empathetic and accurate reports of the ground reality. Photographs do not lie and her work, as a photojournalist, are clearly uncomfortable for the powers that be.”
This is not the first time Zahra is facing resistance for her work. Earlier in 2018, Zahra had gone to cover an operation by armed security personnel in Kachdoora, Shopian district in Kashmir. Someone captured her clicking pictures and started circulating her pictures on social media calling her a ‘Mukhbir’ (whistleblower) subjecting her to online harassment and vilification.
Picture credit- Masrat Zahra/Facebook