Three Kashmir journalists have been accused by Indian police of “anti-national” activities in what critics say is an attempt by authorities to intimidate media during the coronavirus epidemic.
Tensions have been high in the restive Himalayan region since India revoked its semi-autonomous status in early August and imposed a strict curfew to quell any unrest.
Freelance photographer Masrat Zahra was charged Monday under newly expanded anti-terror laws and questioned by police on Tuesday.
We condemn the attempt to attack Arnab Goswami. We condemn every attack on any journalist. This is against democracy and it is really ironical that those who preach tolerance have become so intolerant. Therefore we condemn this attempt: Information and Broadcasting Minister pic.twitter.com/enblQjHC7P
— ANI (@ANI) April 23, 2020
A police statement said her social media posts “can provoke the public to disturb law and order”, and accused her of “frequently uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention”.
Peerzada Ashiq, a Kashmir-based journalist with The Hindu newspaper, was booked Monday for spreading “fake news” and “misinformation”.
Police claimed he falsely reported that coronavirus testing in Muslim-majority Kashmir was halted after kits were diverted to neighbouring Hindu-majority Jammu.
Freelance journalist and political commentator Gowhar Geelani, meanwhile, was booked late Tuesday after police accused him of “glorifying terrorism” in social media posts.
Police in New Delhi this week also used the anti-terror law to charge several Muslim student activists for allegedly plotting riots earlier this year.
None of the journalists was detained.
Zahra, 26, told AFP she was merely posting her published work on social media and had no political agenda.
The Editors Guild of India said the accusations against Zahra and Ashiq were a “gross misuse of power” meant to “strike terror into journalists”.
What did Arnab Goswami do? He asked why is Sonia Gandhi quiet over the lynching of sadhus in a state where Congress rules? Why is this so outrageous that he should be arrested?
— Sunanda Vashisht (@sunandavashisht) April 22, 2020
“Harassment and intimidation of journalists through draconian laws… threatens the efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and creates an atmosphere of fear and reprisal,” Amnesty International’s Avinash Kumar added in a statement.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders called for the withdrawal of the “flimsy charges” against Zahra.
Kashmir has waged a three-decade-long armed rebellion against Indian rule with tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians, lost in the conflict.
The riots were the worst religious violence to break out for decades in Delhi, with more than 50 people killed in the clashes between Muslims and Hindus earlier this year.
AFP with additional input from GVS News Desk.