Take Action for Banned Books Week 2020
Drop All Charges Against Masrat Zahra
Masrat Zahra, a 26‐year‐old award‐winning photojournalist from Srinagar, was accused on April 20, 2020 of “uploading anti‐national posts [on Facebook] with criminal intentions to induce the youth” and booked under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA for short) and Indian Penal Code. Masrat’s work as a freelance photo‐journalist has appeared previously in international media such as Washington Post, Al‐Jazeera, and Indian media such as Quint, and Caravan among others.
Both the Kashmir Press Club (KPC) and Kashmir Working Journalist Association (KWJA) have since demanded that the police withdraw the charges.
A number of journalists and activists have been targeted under the draconian UAPA law. Asif Sultan, a local journalist, was arrested on August 27, 2018 and jailed under the same law and has not been released since. Many other human rights defenders and journalists from across India have also been charged under this law.
Parts of the UAPA do not meet international human rights standards. The 1967 UAPA was amended by India’s Parliament, receiving Presidential approval in August 2019. Among the changes is that the central government can designate a person as a “terrorist” without recourse to judicial review.
On August 5, 2019, amidst a complete clampdown on civil liberties and a communications blackout, the Government of India abrogated Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that provided special autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. While restrictions on the freedom of movement were gradually relaxed, arbitrary detentions and restrictions on internet services continue. There is a clear pattern used by authorities to arbitrarily detain, without charge, activists, politicians, and anyone likely to hold a dissenting opinion.
The investigation against Masrat Zahra (and other Kashmiri journalists) by the police curbs the right to freedom of expression. Harassment and intimidation through laws such as UAPA threaten efforts to address the COVID‐19 pandemic and create an atmosphere of fear and reprisal. In Kashmir, this has been compounded through the general lockdown, prolonged restrictions on internet speed and arbitrary detentions often without any kind of documentation, access to lawyers, and recourse to justice. This severely undermines the human rights guarantees of the people of Kashmir and denies people in India and around the world their right to know.
Amnesty International calls on the Indian authorities to drop all charges against Masrat Zahra and to stop harassing and intimidating journalists in Kashmir. Furthermore, Amnesty International calls on the Indian authorities to repeal the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act or amend it to bring it in line with international human rights law and standards.
Updated on Aug 24, 2020.