Kashmir scholars seek immediate intervention in curbs on press freedom in Indian Administered Kashmir, April 20, 2020

Kashmri Scholars write to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

To 

Prof. David Kaye 

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection

of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

cc: PEN International

Committee to Protect Journalists 

Freedom of the Press Foundation

International Federation of Journalists

International Women’s Media Foundation

Women Photograph

20 April, 2020 

Dear Professor Kaye,

Re: Requesting your urgent intervention in the continued lack of freedom of the press and expression, and harassment and incarceration of journalists in Indian-controlled Kashmir 

We, the Kashmir Scholars Consultative Action Network, are an interdisciplinary group of scholars of various nationalities engaged in research on the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. We are writing this open letter to seek your immediate intervention on the issue of continued persecution of Kashmiri journalists by the Indian government. On April 20,  Masrat Zahra, a freelance photojournalist, whose work has appeared in various international publications including The Washington Post, The New Humanitarian and elsewhere, has been charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). This supposed anti-terrorism legislation enables the government to practically declare any individual as a terrorist, and the punishment under UAPA can carry jail time of two to ten years. Masrat, who reposted some of her past stories and a widely circulated picture form one of her stories on Facebook, is accused of “uploading anti-national posts [on Facebook] with criminal intentions to induce the youth” and for “uploading photographs which can provoke the public to disturb law and order”. Also on April 20, a First information Report was lodged against Peerzada Aashiq, a well known journalist working for reputed Indian newspaper, The Hindu. Aashiq has been accused, as per the FIR, for reporting incorrect facts related to the recent encounter in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir.  These recent cases against Zahra And Peerzada follow a pattern of harassment and intimidation of journalists in Kashmir.

While on his beat, Mushtaq Ganaie, was illegally detained and charged last week, and another freelance journalist, Gowhar Wani, was assaulted by the police and his father threatened. Two Kashmiri journalists, Asif Sultan and Qazi Shibli remain incarcerated. Asif Sultan has been held under UAPA since August 2018 where specific charges against him have not been made clear yet and Qazi Shibli is being held without charge or trial on back to back Public Safety Act orders. Kamran Yusuf, also charged with UAPA, and currently out on bail, was recently attacked in a night raid at his residence. Other journalists, editors, and publishers in Kashmir have been constantly harassed and intimidated by the police and the military. Such actions are in direct contravention of international standards of freedom of opinion, expression, and free press. 

The Kashmir Press Club has condemned charges against Masrat Zahra and all other cases of harassment and summons of journalists by the police, especially during the pandemic. The Committee to Protect Journalists has issued an alert, and Reporters without Borders has called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of charges against Zahra.

It is imperative to also mention the bullying tactics used by the state to silence young Kashmiris who use social media as a medium to express their opinion as well as the crackdown on independent journalism. The Caravan (20 April) notes that Tahir Ashraf, Cyber Police Superintendent, tweeted the following on 16 April: “13 FIRs for misuse of Social Media registered in Kashmir Zone so far. Fake news, rumor mongers and handles promoting terrorism are under watch. More action to follow.” Such tactics appear to have become a new strategy to intimidate and create panic among journalists in particular, and amongst the wider population. These are occupational methods to discipline the native population, especially the younger generation, which has particularly been vocal through social media. 

As you are undoubtedly aware, the Right to Freedom of Expression and Opinion as well as the freedom of press has been under a constant siege in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The suppression of freedom of expression and press intensified since the government of India made unilateral illegal changes to the status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. A Columbia Journalism Review report outlined the longer history of internet shutdowns as well as journalist struggle against Indian media blackouts in Kashmir. At the time, Al Jazeera (1 Sept) reported on the harassment that local journalists faced as they were beaten up, and some were detained

Kashmir has been under a lock down since then with draconian measures in place to prevent dissent and protests against illegal changes to the territory and government policies being implemented under the cover of the pandemic. There was a complete communications clampdown and some of the curbs continue still, severely restricting access to necessary information for those who are at the forefront of fighting the pandemic and keeping people informed

The deteriorating situation of lack of freedom of the press in Kashmir requires global attention and immediate intervention. In this regard, we urge you to urgently take up this matter and publicly call upon the Indian government to stop this systematic assault on the freedom of expression, including critical and necessary independent journalism. We also request you to call for an immediate dismissal of all charges against Masrat Zahra, Peerzada Aashiq as well as the immediate release of Asif Sultan and Qazi Shibli.

Sincerely,

Kashmir Scholars Consultative and Action Network (KSCAN) 

Dean Accardi, Assistant Professor of History, Connecticut College, USA

Raja Qaiser Ahmad, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan

Binish Ahmed, Ph.D. Candidate, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada

Omer Aijazi, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto, Canada

Dibyesh Anand, Professor of International Relations, University of Westminster, UK

Mirza Saaib Beg, Lawyer, London, UK

Mona Bhan, Associate Professor of Anthropology and the Ford Maxwell Professor of South Asian Studies, Syracuse University, USA

Emma Brännlund, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), UK

Farhan Mujahid Chak, Associate Professor, Qatar University, Qatar

Angana Chatterji, Center for Race and Gender, University of California, Berkeley

Huma Dar, Adjunct Professor, California College of the Arts, USA

Haley Duschinski, Associate Professor, Ohio University, USA

Iffat Fatima, Filmmaker, India

Mohammed Tahir Ganie, Assistant Professor, School of Law and Government, Dublin City University, Ireland

Javaid Hayat Khan, Ph. D. Independent Researcher and Analyst, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 

Serena Hussain, Associate Professor, Coventry University, UK

Khushdeep Kaur, Ph.D. Candidate, Temple University, USA

Shrimoyee Nandini Ghosh, Lawyer and Legal Researcher, India

Mohamad Junaid, Assistant Professor, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, USA

Hafsa Kanjwal, Assistant Professor of History, Lafayette College, USA

Mir Fathima Kanth, Ph.D. student in Anthropology, University of California, San Diego, USA

Ain Ul Khair, Ph.D. Student.

Nitasha Kaul, Associate Professor, University of Westminster, UK

Suvir Kaul, A.M. Rosenthal Professor, Department of English, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Zunaira Komal, Ph.D. Candidate, University of California, Davis, USA

Fozia Nazir Lone, Associate Professor of International Law, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Laura Lucia Notaro, Consultant, Sustainable Development, Milan, Italy 

Inshah Malik, Assistant Professor, Kardan University, Kabul, Afghanistan 

Umar Lateef Misgar, Freelance journalist, Ph.D. candidate, University of Westminster, UK

Deepti Misri, Associate Professor, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA 

Preetika Nanda, Research Scholar, India

Immad Nazir, Research Scholar, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany 

Goldie Osuri, Associate Professor, University of Warwick, UK

Idrisa Pandit, Independent Scholar, Waterloo, Canada

Niharika Pandit, Ph.D candidate, LSE, UK

Samina Raja, Professor, University of Buffalo, USA

Iffat Rashid, Ph.D. candidate, University of  Oxford, UK

Torrun Arnsten Sajjad, Department of Community Medicine and Global Health, University of Oslo, Norway

Mehroosh Tak, Lecturer, Royal Veterinary College, London, UK

Nishita Trisal, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA

Saiba Varma, Assistant Professor, University of California, San Diego, USA

Vincent Wong, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, Canada

Waseem Yaqoob, Lecturer, School of History, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

Anam Zakaria, Author and Oral historian, University of Toronto, Canada

Haris Zargar, Ph.D. Candidate, International Institute of Social Sciences, The Hague, Netherlands

Ather Zia, Assistant Professor, University of Northern Colorado, USA