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NNWN/ 22-04-2020

Media bodies and human rights organisations on Tuesday strongly criticised the law enforcement agencies of Jammu and Kashmir for action against two Srinagar-based journalists. These bodies demanded the authorities to withdraw the charges with immediate effect.
The police has charged Masrat Zahra under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for allegedly uploading posts that glorify “anti-national activities” on social media. It summoned Hindu Reporter Peerzada Ashiq for reporting on the claims of the families of deceased militants in Baramulla who said that they were allowed to travel to collect the bodies, though permission was later rescinded.
Expressing "shock and concern" over the action against two journalists, the Editors Guild of India demanded that the police cease harassing the journalists any further.
The Indian Women’s Press Corps objected to the manner in which law-enforcement authorities in Jammu & Kashmir, over the last few days, have invoked laws to clamp down on freedom of speech and expression that violate fundamental rights laid down in the Constitution. The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) has been used against freelance photographer Masarat Zahra, a fellow woman journalist, an Act that was meant to deal with hardened terrorists. While FIRs have been lodged against Peerzada Ashiq, a reporter with The Hindu newspaper based in Srinagar and Gowhar Geelani, a freelance journalist.
According to the IWPC statement, the intentions of the authorities in J&K is to strike fear in the hearts of journalists who are simply doing their job. This is a clear message that the Union Territory will not tolerate dissent. Masarat Zahra had only posted some pictures on social media. Peerzada Ashiq had just filed a report, while Gowhar Geelani’s commentary attracted the displeasure of the government. The IWPC hopes that these strictures are withdrawn at the earliest, the statement said.
Meanwhile, Global human rights watchdog, Amnesty International called for end to ‘intimidation’ of journalists. It demanded that the Indian government stop “intimidation” of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir. Amnesty International India Executive Director Avinash Kumar said, “Harassment and intimidation of journalists through draconian laws such as UAPA threatens the efforts to address the Covid-19 pandemic and creates an atmosphere of fear and reprisal.” Kumar added that the problem of press freedom has been heightened by the nationwide lockdown, prolonged restrictions on internet speed and arbitrary detentions. He alleged that these actions severely undermine the human rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Kumar said any restriction on the right to freedom of expression must be “reasonable and proportionate”. “The media plays a crucial role in reporting human rights abuses and is essential to inform the public about the factual situation and measures taken by the governments in response to Covid-19,” Kumar said.