India cracks down on Kashmir journalists amid virus lockdown
April 22, 2020 08:55 PM
Three Kashmir journalists have been accused by Indian police of "anti-national" activities in what critics say is an attempt by authorities to intimidate media during the coronavirus epidemic.
Tensions have been high in the restive Himalayan region since India revoked its semi-autonomous status in early August and imposed a strict curfew to quell any unrest.
Freelance photographer Masrat Zahra was charged Monday under newly expanded anti-terror laws and questioned by police on Tuesday.
A police statement said her social media posts "can provoke the public to disturb law and order", and accused her of "frequently uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention".
Peerzada Ashiq, a Kashmir-based journalist with The Hindu newspaper, was booked Monday for spreading "fake news" and "misinformation".
Police claimed he falsely reported that coronavirus testing in Muslim-majority Kashmir was halted after kits were diverted to neighbouring Hindu-majority Jammu.
Freelance journalist and political commentator Gowhar Geelani, meanwhile, was booked late Tuesday after police accused him of "glorifying terrorism" in social media posts.
Police in New Delhi this week also used the anti-terror law to charge several Muslim student activists for allegedly plotting riots earlier this year.
None of the journalists was detained. Zahra, 26, told AFP she was merely posting her published work on social media and had no political agenda.
The Editors Guild of India said the accusations against Zahra and Ashiq were a "gross misuse of power" meant to "strike terror into journalists".
"Harassment and intimidation of journalists through draconian laws... threatens the efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and creates an atmosphere of fear and reprisal," Amnesty International's Avinash Kumar added in a statement.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders called for the withdrawal of the "flimsy charges" against Zahra.