Two Kashmir journalists booked; press bodies, Twitterati lodge protest

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Srinagar: Two journalists working in Kashmir were booked on Monday for reportedly posting “anti-national” content on social media and publishing a “fake” news story, police said.

“A case has been registered against Masrat Zahra for uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and promote offences against tranquillity,” a police official said.

In the second case, an FIR was registered against senior journalist Peerzada Ashiq, working for The Hindu, over a story he had filed recently.

Ashiq was summoned by the police on Sunday in two different districts of Kashmir within a span of six hours to explain his position regarding one of his news reports.

“An information was received on April 19 regarding a fake news item being published in ‘The Hindu’ newspaper by the journalist namely Pir Zada Ashiq, regarding an encounter at Shopian and subsequent developments. The details reflected in the news item were found factually incorrect and the said news could cause fear or alarm in the minds of public,” police said in a statement.

“The said news was published without seeking confirmation from the district authorities. In this regard, an FIR was registered against the journalist in Anantnag,” it said.

The IGP Kashmir also appealed the media fraternity “not to publish fake/ fabricated news/ stories, which has bearing on national security and which has the potential of causing social instability and can lead to law and order problem”.

The press bodies and journalists, however, took to social media to lodge their protest against the action.

“Masarat Zehra, a professional photojournalist has honestly told stories of Kashmir in 4-year career. Invoking UAPA (unlawful activities prevention act) is outrageous. In solidarity with our colleague, we demand FIR (be) withdrawn. Journalism is not crime. Intimidation/censorship won’t silence Kashmir’s journalists,” Moazum Mohammad, vice president of Kashmir Press Club, said in a tweet.

The press club, in a statement, also asked Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Jammu and Kashmir Lt Governor G C Murmu to issue directions for putting an end to harassment of journalists in the Union Territory.

It said there have been instances wherein scribes were harassed for travelling to report stories.

“The Jammu and Kashmir government, especially the police, needs to understand that there is a vast difference between journalism and cyber crime,” the press club said in reference to the Cyber police station summoning both the journalists.

While Ashiq was summoned on Sunday before being directed to appear before police in Anantnag district in late evening hours, Zahra was summoned to the Cyber police station on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Twitterati and journalists in Kashmir started the hashtag #IStandWithMasratZahra in support of the woman journalist.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti’a daughter Iltija Mufti said intimidating and harassing journalists in Jammu and Kashmir to stifle reportage has become the norm.

“Masarat Zahra, a photojournalist was booked under draconian UAPA for allegedly ‘uploading anti national posts’. In J&K using VPNs or social media is now seen as a threat to public order,” Iltija tweeted from her mother’s handle.

In another tweet, she said, “Predominantly media in the country is largely pliable. The ones that have any credibility left are hounded & punished. It’s worse for journalists from J&K who report at the cost of their lives. TOI reporter Samiya Latief was bullied & trolled on twitter.” The action against the two journalists comes amidst a crackdown by police, including its cyber wing, on internet users peddling fake news or uploading anti-national content on the virtual platform.

According to police sources, at least five persons, including a policeman, have been arrested over the past one month for posting anti-national or inflammatory content on social media and circulating fake news.