Freelance journalist Ahmer Khan was announced as the winner of the 2019 AFP Kate Webb Prize on Thursday for his ground reports from Jammu and Kashmir after the Centre rescinded the region’s special status in August last year.
“The Kate Webb Prize, with a €3,000 [approximately Rs 2,31,793] purse, honours journalists working in perilous or difficult conditions in Asia,” the news agency tweeted. “It is named after a crusading AFP reporter who died in 2007 at the age of 64, after a career covering the world’s troublespots.” The award will be presented to Khan at an event in Hong Kong later in the year.
The 27-year-old journalist was honoured for his videos and written news reports that highlighted the impact of restrictions on the locals. The Indian administration cut off internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh on August 5 last year just before imposing a security lockdown in the erstwhile state. The administration has been gradually lifting the restrictions in the last few months.
Despite the curfews and heavy security deployment in the region, Khan successfully documented tension, concerns, and frustrations of the residents of Srinagar and other areas in Kashmir. He also travelled to and from New Delhi to file his stories in order to skirt the previously imposed communication shutdown.
“This is a real honour, and a huge motivation to carry on my work with enthusiasm and determination,” Khan said, according to AFP. “I want to dedicate this award to the courageous and resilient journalists from Kashmir who have been reporting in extremely difficult conditions for the past six months. This is a collective award.”
The news agency’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Philippe Massonnet described reporting from the region as “extremely challenging for everyone, including the established foreign media”. For a local, independent journalist those challenges were far greater, Massonnet noted, adding: “...It is to Ahmer’s enormous credit that he managed to provide accurate, high-quality journalism when it was so sorely needed.”
In 2018, the award was given to journalist Asad Hashim for his reports on the condition of the ethnic Pashtun community and blasphemy issues in Pakistan.
The award came at a time when concerns have been raised over journalists being intimidated and harassed for their reports in the region. In a statement on February 10, the Kashmir Press Club had pointed out instances of journalists being unable to operate freely due to alleged obstruction and intimidation by authorities. On Monday, the organisation urged Union Home Minister Amit Shah and authorities in the Jammu and Kashmir administration to “take note of the appalling conditions in which press in Kashmir is working since August 5 last year”.
Limited mobile 2G internet services were restored for both prepaid and postpaid connections only on January 25 in Jammu and Kashmir. On February 16, the administration of the Union Territory whitelisted 1,485 websites for access in the region but extended the ban on high-speed 3G and 4G internet services till February 24. In an order, the authorities said “internet speed shall be restricted to 2G only”.