One more Kashmiri journalist has been stopped by the Indian authorities from flying overseas as outrage grows over a seamless clampdown on press freedom in Indian-administered Kashmir and its residents.
Impartial journalist Aakash Hassan, 25, was on his solution to Sri Lanka for a reporting task final week when immigration officers at New Delhi airport barred him from boarding the flight, making him the fourth Kashmiri journalist in a few 12 months to face the motion.
“I acquired my boarding cross and after I was on the immigration, I used to be instructed to attend on the aspect,” Hassan instructed Al Jazeera.
“Then I used to be taken to a room and interrogated by two individuals who didn’t establish themselves. They requested me what sort of journalism I do. They requested about my background,” he mentioned.
Hassan mentioned the interrogation continued for 5 hours.
“My passport and boarding cross had been stamped with ‘Stopped with out prejudice’ and my baggage was offloaded,” mentioned Hassan, who additionally shared footage of the stamping on Twitter.
The immigration officers, Hassan mentioned, didn’t present any justification for why he was stopped.
“They mentioned there was a lookout round issued on my identify however they denied disclosing which company had issued it,” he mentioned.
A lookout round is issued by India’s legislation enforcement companies to cease a person – both absconding or wished – from leaving the nation. It’s largely used at immigration checkpoints at worldwide airports.
‘Focused for our work’
Hassan mentioned there is no such thing as a legal case towards him.
“The worst factor is I don’t know who I ought to strategy. That is going to take a psychological toll on me. We’re being focused for our work,” he instructed Al Jazeera.
“It will jeopardise my future.”
Kashmiri journalists say issuing of lookout circulars towards them and stopping them from worldwide journey is a brand new development.
Final month, Pulitzer Prize-winning Kashmiri photojournalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo was prevented from flying to Paris for a photograph exhibition.
“I used to be shocked and heartbroken,” the 28-year-old then instructed Al Jazeera, including that she, like Hassan, didn’t have a legal case towards her.
Mattoo, a contributor to the Reuters information company, was a part of a four-member group of photojournalists that received the Pulitzer final 12 months for his or her protection of the COVID-19 disaster in India.
Final 12 months, two different Kashmiri journalists – Zahid Rafiq and Ruwa Shah – had been barred from flying overseas.
In 2019, impartial journalist Gowhar Geelani was stopped at New Delhi airport when he was on his solution to Germany to hitch a job.
There have been comparable examples from outdoors Kashmir as properly.
In April this 12 months, Aakar Patel, former head of Amnesty Worldwide in India, mentioned he was stopped from flying to america due to a legal case filed towards the rights physique. Authorities mentioned Patel was on a “lookout round” issued by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation.
Days earlier than that, distinguished Indian journalist Rana Ayyub was additionally stopped from boarding a flight to London the place she was scheduled to deal with a press occasion. She was allowed to fly 5 days later after she approached a courtroom of legislation.
Some Kashmiris allege their passports weren’t being renewed by the Indian authorities.
“The passport verification course of has been pending for greater than six months,” a 30-year-old Kashmiri journalist who didn’t need to be recognized instructed Al Jazeera.
‘Systematic sample of harassment’
Kashmiri teachers and journalists finding out or working overseas say they concern visiting dwelling over the danger of being barred from flying again.
“They [authorities] have used all types of means to harass journalists, questioning them, harassing households, arrests and now stopping them from going out of India is a brand new problem,” Kashmiri journalist Ahmad who didn’t need to be recognized by his first identify instructed Al Jazeera.
“With every day, doing journalism in Kashmir is turning into inconceivable … Journalism in Kashmir is nearly lifeless,” he added.
Al Jazeera reached out to a number of authorities officers in Kashmir for his or her feedback on the problem. One official, talking on the situation of anonymity, justified the restrictions on Kashmiri journalists.
“It [the lookout circular] is being issued solely towards these people who peddle a sustained insidious narrative towards the [Indian] state. They [journalists] are a part of the ‘terror ecosystem’ and the state is inside its rights to subject lookout circulars towards such individuals,” he mentioned.
After India’s Hindu nationalist authorities stripped Kashmir of its restricted autonomy in 2019, the disputed area has witnessed a collection of crackdowns towards journalists and media organisations.
In January this 12 months, the Kashmir Press Membership – the biggest impartial media physique within the area – was dissolved by the federal government. Kashmiri journalists complain of being routinely summoned to police stations and interrogated about their work.
Some journalists have been booked underneath stringent legal guidelines, together with the Illegal Actions Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Public Security Act (PSA), which permit lengthy detention of an individual with out trial.
India is ranked a hundred and fiftieth within the World Press Freedom Index 2022, down from 142 the earlier 12 months and at the moment under Hong Kong and Turkey.
“The journey bans are a part of a scientific sample of harassment towards Kashmiri journalists, who’ve more and more confronted arbitrary arrest, frivolous authorized circumstances, threats, bodily assaults, and raids since August 2019,” media watchdog the Committee to Shield Journalists (CPJ) tweeted final month.
Referring to Hassan’s case, CPJ mentioned, “Overseas governments should deal with arbitrary journey restrictions on Kashmiri journalists as severe violations of human rights in any engagement with the Indian authorities.”
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, instructed Al Jazeera “arbitrary restrictions” on Kashmiri journalists travelling overseas had been “extraordinarily regarding” and violated their livelihood and freedom of motion.
Geeta Seshu, co-founder of the Free Speech Collective, an impartial organisation that advocates press freedom in India, mentioned “persevering with harassment and intimidation” of Kashmiri journalists by stopping them from flying overseas “smacks of discrimination”.
“It is usually disturbing because it seeks to ship a message to impartial journalists that their proper of free entry and mobility is incumbent on their obedience and acquiescence to the powers that be,” she instructed Al Jazeera.
“That is undemocratic and violates their basic proper to free expression. So many journalists from India have travelled to numerous bother spots, together with Sri Lanka, with out being stopped or curbed in any approach.”