Days after barring Pulitzer-winning Kashmiri photojournalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo from travelling abroad, another Kashmiri journalist, Aakash Hassan was barred from boarding his flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka.
After reaching the airport at about 3:30 pm on Tuesday afternoon, Hassan collected his boarding pass. While heading toward immigration, his passport was checked and he was stopped from going ahead, Hassan told Maktoob.
“I was initially told that there was some problem with my passport. I was made to sit there for about five hours. When the airline staff came asking for me, they were asked to offload my luggage from the plane,” he said, adding that he was meanwhile questioned about his background, family, and profession.
About five hours later, Hassan finally tweeted about being stopped from travelling and he also uploaded a picture of his boarding pass with a stamp of “cancelled without prejudice”.
“Immigration officials at IGI airport New Delhi barred me from boarding a flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. I was headed to report on the current crises in the country. The immigration officials took my passport, and boarding pass and have made me sit in a room for the last four hours,” he wrote.
Soon after his tweet, Hassan said that the officers allowed him to leave. On asking for the reason, Hassan said that the officers replied that their system flashed his name and therefore, he was being stopped. “They told me that they contacted the higher-ups and they [higher-ups] said that I was supposed to be allowed to travel,” said Hassan.
Hassan, who often contributes to international media organizations like Guardian had been getting assignments to travel abroad for reporting stories, but he said that he was apprehensive about how the Kashmiri journalists were being stopped.
Recently, Mattoo was barred from flying abroad by immigration authorities, citing the restrictions being imposed on her by the Jammu and Kashmir Police. Mattoo was on her way to Paris to attend a book launch event and participate in a photography exhibition when she was stopped by immigration authorities at the Delhi airport.
In 2019, another senior Kashmiri journalist Gowhar Geelani was stopped at the Delhi airport from travelling to a journalists’ conference in Germany and was allegedly told that no explanation could be provided to him for the ban.
Earlier, Indian journalist, Rana Ayyub was also stopped at the Mumbai airport by immigration authorities on the basis of a lookout circular (LOC) issued by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) against her in a money laundering case.
“There isn’t even any pending case against me that should amount to something like this. It clearly is a depiction of what’s happening in the larger scenario to the journalists,” said Hassan. “I believe that it is just another way of intimidating and harassing journalists.”
For Hassan, going to Sri Lanka was a big opportunity as he was assigned two stories. He said that as a freelancer, the travel ban has specifically been more difficult as like most freelance journalists the expenses are reimbursed only at the end of the assignments.
“Now they are even stopping us from doing our work. They are stopping us from growing and expanding our career opportunities. For any journalist, travel is an essential part,” he said. “In fact, even without that, travel is a basic fundamental right of human beings.”
Hassan believes that his travel ban will put mental pressure not only on him but on other journalists as well from exploring career opportunities.
“Now all my work is zeroing down to the fact that there is a travel restriction on me. It is affecting my current scenario and it will very likely affect my future prospects.”