The Editors Guild of India on Tuesday expressed “shock and concern” over the actions of law enforcement agencies in Jammu and Kashmir in dealing with two Srinagar-based journalists – freelance photographer Masrat Zahra and The Hindu reporter Peerzada Ashiq. The guild demanded that the police cease harassing the journalists any further.

“While only an FIR [first information report] has been filed in connection with a report filed by Peerzada Ashiq, the authorities in the union territory have used the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act against Masrat Zahra,” the guild said. “Any recourse to such laws for merely publishing something in the mainstream or social media is a gross misuse of power. Its only purpose can be to strike terror into journalists.”

The Editors Guild accused the police of using the toughest laws meant for hardened terrorists against journalists making “mere social media posts of factual pictures”. They said that the correct approach in dealing with Ashiq’s story in The Hindu would have been to contact the newspaper editor.

“The Guild demands that the Union Territory administration of Jammu & Kashmir withdraw the charges forthwith,” the statement concluded.

On April 18, the police had charged Zahra under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for allegedly uploading posts that glorify “anti-national activities” on social media. The police claimed Zahra uploaded photographs that could “provoke the public to disturb law and order”.

On the other hand, Ashiq was summoned to the police station for reporting on the claims of the families of deceased militants in Baramulla who said that they were allowed to travel to collect the bodies, though permission was later rescinded.

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 Cyber Police Station Kashmir Zone on Tuesday booked journalist and author Gowhar Geelani for allegedly “indulging in unlawful activities” through social media that are “prejudicial to the national integrity, sovereignty and security of India”. The police alleged that Geelani had been glorifying terrorism in the Kashmir Valley through his posts.

Amnesty International calls for end to ‘intimidation’ of journalists

Global human rights watchdog Amnesty International demanded that the Indian government stop “intimidation” of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The two new First Information Reports [FIR] against journalists in Kashmir that initiate investigations against them by the police signal the authorities’ attempt to curb the right to freedom of expression,” Amnesty International India Executive Director Avinash Kumar said. “Harassment and intimidation of journalists through draconian laws such as UAPA threatens the efforts to address the Covid-19 pandemic and creates an atmosphere of fear and reprisal.”

Kumar added that the problem of press freedom has been heightened by the nationwide lockdown, prolonged restrictions on internet speed and arbitrary detentions. He alleged that these actions severely undermine the human rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Kumar said any restriction on the right to freedom of expression must be “reasonable and proportionate”.

“The media plays a crucial role in reporting human rights abuses and is essential to inform the public about the factual situation and measures taken by the governments in response to Covid-19,” Kumar said. “Yet time and again, UAPA, India’s principal counter-terrorism law, has been abused to target journalists and human right defenders who criticise government policies.”