On August 31, Kashmiri journalist and author Gowhar Geelani was stopped by immigration authorities at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport as he was heading to Germany. Geelani, who works as an editor at German media organisation Deutsche Welle, was to attend a training programme in Bonn.
Geelani said that the immigration official did not give him any reasons for stopping him but they kept repeating one line: “Aapko pata hai dikkat hai Kashmir mein” – You know there is a problem in Kashmir. One immigration official also told him that his name had been flagged by the Jammu and Kashmir government.
On September 1 The Indian Express quoted unidentified officials to say that Geelani had been stopped at the request of the Intelligence Bureau.
In an interview to Scroll.in, Geelani described his ordeal at the airport.
What reason did the immigration officials give from preventing you to travel? Did they say anything specific or give you anything in writing?
At around 9 pm, the immigration officer looked at my passport, smiled and said, “Yahan toh case hai” [There is a case here]. He took my passport and boarding pass with him and then came back with another immigration officer who identified himself as Mr Abhishek. At 9.30, Mr Abhishek said I had to come with them and they took me to a room. He only said, “Aapko pata hai dikkat hai Kashmir mein” [You know that there is a problem in Kashmir]. I agreed with him that there is a problem in Kashmir but asked him why they were stopping me. I waited in that room for another half an hour.
Mr Abhishek kept coming and going and he also offered me water from his own bag. When he came back again he told me that I was not allowed to travel. I asked them to give me a reason and also give it to me in writing as I would have to show it to my organisation. But he said that he could not give me a reason or write it down and that he was just following the orders of his seniors.
Later on, he told me that the Jammu and Kashmir government had flagged this. He did not say why though. I can only guess that they are trying to muzzle every voice challenging the narrative of the state government. They must have got paranoid about me travelling abroad. But I showed them my itinerary and documentation of the training programme I was supposed to attend. Mr Abhishek said that there was no problem in my documentation.
My flight had left by 12.55 am. They said I would get a refund of my ticket. I had to wait to get my luggage back. I was scared because my mobile was not working. I checked into a nearby hotel at 4 am and I have not had any sleep since then. My right to employment, right to travel and right to free speech was curtailed. What is my crime?
Did the immigration officials mention there was a Look Out Circular for you?
No, they did not make any mention of this.
According to the immigration official, it was the Jammu and Kashmir government that had flagged your name?
Yes, and this is the first time such a thing has happened with me.
Have you been able to find out more about why you were prevented from travelling?
No, I have not. Also it is a Sunday [September 1], so I will try to find out more tomorrow. It is mental harassment. I felt threatened for my life, career and my family. I cannot think of anything else right now.
When was the last time you went to Srinagar?
I was in Srinagar from August 4 till 13 and then again from August 26 till 29. Initially when I was there, we could not figure out what was happening. There were concertina wires everywhere, which seem to be the fastest growing vegetation in Kashmir. We also went to the Press Club in Srinagar but there was no internet there. So we approached the Director of Information from the Jammu and Kashmir government for curfew passes on August 8. She told us that we could not get them and that she did not have one either.
I also observed how journalists started to parachute in and that some of them were guarded by security forces. They also had satellite phones and their OB vans [outside broadcasting] were guided.
Local reporters who have resources and sources in many areas were stopped. If a local reporter left the press club then we had no way of knowing if they were fine or not because of the communication blackout. I could not meet by siblings and nephews in Srinagar on Eid either.
When I came back for the second time not much had changed. Students were still not going to schools.
Several Kashmiri political leaders have been detained and kept under house arrest. It has also been reported that children are also among the detained in Jammu and Kashmir. On August 31, you were stopped from travelling abroad. What do you think this is an attempt at?
There is an attempt to stop Kashmiri voices even if they are not speaking about the government. You cannot even speak about the medical situation and emergencies happening there. It is to stop the Kashmiri pain from coming out.
Another attempt is being made to stifle any voice that has potential credibility and influence internationally and regionally. The government’s propaganda is being peddled. The state is having a free day and it is confident that it will get away with anything. The work of the media has been shoddy.