Academics including Noam Chomsky, Ayesha Jalal write UN on press freedom in Kashmir

The academics, journalists, and editors working in different parts of the world wrote an open letter to seek United Nations’ immediate intervention on the issue of the continued persecution of Kashmiri journalists by the Indian government.

Dozens of prominent intellectuals, writers and academics including American linguist Noam Chomsky, Pakistani-American historian Ayesha Jalal, author Janine di Giovanni, Iranian scholar Hamid Dabashi, British political activist and writer, Tariq Ali have co-signed the open letter addressed to Prof. David Kaye, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and international organizations including PEN International, Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom of the Press Foundation, International Federation of Journalists, International Women’s Media Foundation and Women Photograph.

“These recent cases against Masrat Zahra, Peerzada Aashiq, and Gowhar Geelani, follow a pattern of harassment and intimidation of journalists in Kashmir,” the letter reads.

“As you are undoubtedly aware, the Right to Freedom of Expression and Opinion as well as the freedom of press has been under a constant siege in India-controlled Kashmir. The suppression of freedom of expression and press intensified since the government of India made unilateral illegal changes to the status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. A Columbia Journalism Review report outlined the longer history of internet shutdowns as well as journalist struggle against Indian media blackouts in Kashmir. At the time, Al Jazeera (1 Sept) reported on the harassment that local journalists faced as they were beaten up, and some were detained,” said the letter.

The deteriorating situation of lack of freedom of the press in Kashmir requires global attention and immediate intervention.

Academics and journalists urged the United Nations to urgently take up this matter and publicly call upon the Indian government to stop this systematic assault on the freedom of expression, including critical and necessary independent journalism.

They also requested international organizations to call for immediate dismissal of all charges against Masrat Zahra, Peerzada Aashiq as well as the immediate release of Asif Sultan and Qazi Shibli.

On 20 April, Masrat Zahra, a freelance photojournalist, whose work has appeared in various international publications including The Washington Post, The New Humanitarian and elsewhere, has been charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Masrat, who reposted some of her past stories and a widely circulated picture form one of her stories on Facebook, is accused of “uploading anti-national posts [on Facebook] with criminal intentions to induce the youth” and for “uploading photographs which can provoke the public to disturb law and order”.

Also on the same day, a First Information Report (FIR) was lodged against Peerzada Aashiq, a well-known journalist working for The Hindu. Aashiq has been accused, as per the FIR, for reporting incorrect facts related to the recent encounter in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir.

As of 21 April, an FIR has been filed against another Kashmiri journalist, Gowhar Geelani, accusing him of using his social media posts and writings for “unlawful activities.”

While on his beat, Mushtaq Ganaie who works for Kashmir Observer, was detained and charged last week, and another freelance journalist, Gowhar Wani, was assaulted by the police and his father threatened.

Since August 5, 2019, there have been several other cases of intimidation and harassment of journalists.

Two Kashmiri journalists, Asif Sultan and Qazi Shibli remain incarcerated. Asif Sultan has been held under UAPA since August 2018 where specific charges against him have not been made clear yet and Qazi Shibli is being held without charge or trial on back to back Public Safety Act orders.

Kamran Yusuf, also charged with UAPA, and currently out on bail, was recently attacked in a night raid at his residence.

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