A photojournalist from Jammu and Kashmir was on Saturday charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for allegedly uploading posts that glorify “anti-national activities” on social media, the police said.
The amended UAPA allows the government to proscribe individuals as terrorists and empowers more officers of the National Investigation Agency to probe cases. A person charged under the act can be jailed for up to seven years.
The police said that Masrat Zahra, a freelance photojournalist who reports mostly about women and children in conflict, uploaded photographs that could “provoke the public to disturb law and order”.
“The user [Zahra] is also uploading posts that tantamount to glorify the anti-national activities and dent the image of law enforcing agencies besides causing disaffection against the country,” the police said in a press release.
The police added that Zahra’s social media posts are inciting young people and promoting unrest. “The user is uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquility,” they said.
A first information report has also been filed against Zahra under Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code, which punishes those who induce others to commit an offence against the state or against public tranquillity.
The police also warned people of strict action if they are found circulating inflammatory content on social media. “General public is advised to refrain from misuse of social media platforms and circulation of unauthenticated information,” they said. “Any person found indulging in such activities will be dealt with strictly under law.”
Zahra told Scroll.in that she was asked to immediately report to the Cyber Police Station in Srinagar on Saturday evening. “Since there was a lockdown and I didn’t have a curfew pass, I told them [the police] that I cannot come immediately,” Zahra said. “They pressurised me to come but I didn’t go. They didn’t mention a first information report.”
Zahra added that after the call from the police, she approached senior journalists for help. “I immediately brought the call to the notice of senior journalists and office bearers of Kashmir Press Club,” she said. “Later that evening, I got a call from one of the KPC [Kashmir Press Club] members and they told me that the matter has been solved and I didn’t need to go. They told me that they have spoken to police higher-ups about the matter.”
The journalist said that she did not receive any more calls from the police after that but saw social media posts about the charges against her. “Early today [Monday] morning, I saw some tweets doing rounds that a woman journalist has been booked under UAPA,” she said. “The police didn’t call me directly to inform me about the FIR. I came to know about it from my colleagues.”
Women journalists’ organisation condemns charges against Zahra
The Network of Women in Media, India said that it was shocked at the charges against Zahra. “NWMI believes that the charges are preposterous in the extreme and amount to rank intimidation of a journalist who has won acclaim for her work, which documents the travails of people of Kashmir,” the organisation said in a statement. “Photographs do not lie and her work, as a photojournalist, are clearly uncomfortable for the powers that be.”
The organisation demanded that the FIR filed against Zahra be dropped. “NWMI [Network of Women in Media] demands that police and security forces stop all such intimidatory and harassing tactics against journalists,” the organisation said.