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KPC demands charges be dropped on Masrat Zahra, seeks intervention of Home Minister, LG, Police Chief

Srinagar: The Kashmir Press Club condemned the recent cases of harassment and summons to journalists by police in Kashmir on Monday — the latest being booking a female photojournalist under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and IPC-505.

“She was summoned to Cyber Police Station, Aircargo in Srinagar on April 18, 2020. However after Kashmir Press Club and Directorate of Information intervened at the highest level, the police dropped the summon,” said the statement issued here. “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, 2020.”

Masrat Zahra, a professional photojournalist, was booked under the UAPA and IPC-505 for posting “anti-national” content on Facebook on 18 April, the police claimed.

“Even in this time of coronavirus pandemic journalists in Kashmir have been called to police stations and forced to present themselves to explain their stories.”

Similarly, the statement added, the police on Sunday verbally summoned a senior journalist, Peerzada Ashiq, of The Hinduand asked him to explain the alleged factual inaccuracies in a story that was published the same day.

While Ashiq 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.

“He returned late in the midnight to his home in Srinagar but in the meantime his family was terrified and concerned about his safety,” said the KPC.

Also, a reporter of Kashmir Observer  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 says 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 statement added.

KPC also mentioned that there is 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 is very 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 reiterated. “This is 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.”

KPC has 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.

“We stand in solidarity with our colleagues especially Masrat Zahra and declare that journalism is not a crime”, the KPC said and demanded that the charges be dropped against her.

The Kashmir Press Club has 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.”

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