Crackdown amid corona: Kashmir police book photojournalist Masrat Zahra under UAPA to send a message

20 April 2020
Courtesy Sharafat Ali
Courtesy Sharafat Ali

On 20 April, Masrat Zahra, a 26-year-old photojournalist from Kashmir, woke up to learn that the cyber police had booked her under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. A press release by the Cyber Police Station, Kashmir Zone, was doing rounds on social media that morning, which referred to Zahra’s Facebook account, stated, “The facebook user is … believed to be uploading photographs which can provoke the public to disturb law and order.” Zahra questioned why the press release identified her in that manner. “I don’t understand,” she said. “It is like I don’t have an identity as a journalist.”

The press release accused Zahra of “uploading anti national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquility.” It continued, “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.” But according to Zahra, she has only uploaded photos she had taken while reporting from the ground. “I’m just uploading my professional work, that I have covered since years and witnessed in Kashmir,” Zahra said. She added that some of these photos had already been published internationally. “I’m a photojournalist, what else am I supposed to upload?”

Zahra’s timeline on Facebook echoes her words. Many of her photos document the daily excesses committed by the Indian security forces in Kashmir, such as photos of family members who lost their kin or their property during police firing. Several others capture the ongoing resistance in the region. For instance, on 18 April, Zahra uploaded a photo showing a piece of clothing, some documents and loose change. In the caption, she wrote, “Arifa Jan keeps newspaper clippings and the blood-stained notes of her husband, Abdul Qadir Sheikh, was carrying when he was gunned down by Indian army suspected being a militant. ‘I couldn’t come to terms with the agony and pain inflicted on me,’ she said.” Another photo, published on 6 April, showed a woman standing in front of a demolished house and had the caption, “‘Pehlay yeh ghar meray liaye bus ik makaan tha, ab yeh jagah meray liaye eik astaan hai (First, this house was just a home for me. Now, this place is a shrine for me),’ said Madhosh Balhami, the poet who lost his 30-years of poetry when his house was destroyed by armed forces in a gun battle.”

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    Arshu John is a former assistant editor at The Caravan. Prior to that, he was an advocate practising criminal law in Delhi.

    Keywords: Kashmir Valley Jammu and Kashmir Police media freedom press freedom