Call for a boycott is now deemed sedition in Kashmir  

The media and activists from Kashmir have borne the brunt of draconian laws including UAPA, which was amended in August, 2019 to include individuals

 Journalists in Srinagar protesting with posters and placards  
Journalists in Srinagar protesting with posters and placards

NH Web Desk

On June 29, 2020, Kashmiri NRI businessman Mubeen Shah was charged with sedition because he had called for a boycott of non-Kashmiris seeking to acquire land with the new domicile certificates issued by the government.

Shah had been put under preventive detention on August 7, 2019 and ‘temporarily released’ for three months on December 7, under section 20(2) of the PSA, which allows the government to release a person at any time for any specified period either without conditions or upon such conditions as that person accepts and may at any time cancel his release. On December 9, the PSA against him was ‘permanently revoked’. Chauvinist as his post was, it hardly qualified as sedition.

On April 21, the same cyber police cell booked journalist and writer Gowher Geelani under Section 13 of the UAPA and Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code, with similar charges of ‘indulging in unlawful activities through social media posts’.

On April 18, the Jammu and Kashmir cyber police booked Kashmiri photojournalist Masrat Zahra under Section 13 of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code for posting “anti-national” content on social media.

The alleged content that she posted were photographs she had taken for a story back in December 2019. In it, she talks about Arifa Jan, whose husband was allegedly killed by the Indian Army in 2000. “Arifa Jan suffers frequent panic attacks nearly two decades after her husband was gunned down by Indian army in 2000, she can still hear the gunshots and sees her husband’s blood-soaked body when she thinks of him”.

Telling such a story through photographs has not been classified as an unlawful activity and any attempt to do so would clearly violate the freedom of the media. Originally intended to target organizations supportive of terrorist activities, the 1967 UAPA was amended in August 2019 – around the same time as Kashmir’s special status was abolished and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act was passed – to include prosecution of individuals.

The amendment was challenged in the Supreme Court, but the hearings are yet to conclude. In the meantime, a large number of students and human rights activists have been charged under it, including pregnant Kashmiri student Safoora Zargar, who was active in student protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (also under challenge in the Supreme Court) at the Jamia Millia Islamia University and was arrested and charged under the amended UAPA on April 10, 2020.

The Editors’ Guild, Network of Women in Media in India, and Press Club of India and of Kashmir have asked that the charges against Zahra and Geelani be dropped. Zargar’s bail plea was rejected by the lower court on June 5, 2020. On June 19, 2020, she was granted bail on humanitarian grounds by the Delhi High Court.

While no charges were lodged against him, journalist Ashiq Peerzada of The Hindu was subjected to 12 hours of questioning by the Jammu and Kashmir police over filing what they claimed was ‘fake news’. The article in question quoted a family member of a dead militant who had been buried by security forces, saying they had been given permission to exhume their relative’s body. The district administration did not respond to Peerzada’s fact-checking query, which too was mentioned in the article.

(From the report of ‘The Forum for Human Rights in Jammu & Kashmir’, released in July, 2020)

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