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India’s Press Freedom Index Drops To A Historical Low As Journalist Fret In Kashmir

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Journalist Gowhar Geelani was named in an FIR by the J&K Cyber Police for ‘‘glorifying terrorism in the valley’ while India further dropped two places on the Global Press Freedom Index – 2020. 

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This is the second such FIR against a Kashmiri journalist in the last four days. Earlier photojournalist Masrat Zahra was charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act(UAPA) for posting pictures on her social media account.

Gowhar Geelani is an independent reporter who previously worked for Deutsche Welle in Germany and has been published by the BBC and various other media houses.

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While it was not clear which sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) were levied against Geelani, reports said these were similar to those connected with Masrat Zahra. Zahra, 26, was booked under the UAPA for indulging in “anti-national activities with criminal intentions to induce the youth” for her Facebook posts.

Geelani had earlier spoken about Masrat’s arrest to Aljazeera and said that “invoking stringent provisions of a draconian law” against Zahra “speaks volumes about the gags against media to silence journalists, to control the narratives by use of force, and to contain the Kashmir story with lawlessness”.

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The amended UAPA was passed in May 2019 and allows speedy investigation and prosecution in terror-related offenses. It also allows an individual to be designated as a terrorist, a provision that the opposition sees as dangerous.

Speaking to ThePrint, a senior official said that the authorities had been “compiling information” about Geelani’s social media activity for a while now. In the official press release, the police said:’’ Cyber Police Station Kashmir Zone, Srinagar, has received a message that a person namely ‘Gowhar Geelani’ is indulging in illicit activities through his posts on Social Media platform which are prejudicial to the integrity, sovereignty and security of the country.

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The unlawful activities include glorifying terrorism in Kashmir Valley, causing disaffection against the country and causing fear or alarm in the minds of the public that may lead to the commission of offenses against public tranquillity and the security of State.’’

The statement further added that several complaints have also been received against Gowhar Geelani for ‘’threatening and intimidation.’’ “A Case FIR No. 11/2020 under the relevant sections of law has been registered at Cyber Police Station Kashmir and investigation initiated,” it said.

Journalists in Kashmir have come under scrutiny from the police in recent times. In April earlier this month, the police arrested Mushtaq Ahmed, a reporter with Kashmir Observer while he was working in Bandipora but was later released.

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A correspondent for The Hindu, Peerzada Ashiq, was summoned to the police station to seek clarification on his report. Although permitted to leave later – the Jammu and Kashmir Police questioned a story “Kin allowed to exhume bodies of militants in Baramulla” published by The Hindu on April 19 as “fake news,” the Jammu and Kashmir police registered a case against the national daily.

The Kashmir Press Club condemned the charges against Masrat Zahra and other journalists from the region and demanded intervention by India’s Home Minister Amit Shah. “It is very unfortunate that when the world is in a grip of pandemic and when we need to stand together to combat the COVID-19, police have started filing cases against journalists and harassing them,” it said.

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The global press freedom index was released amidst the arrests and bookings of Kashmiri journalists. The harassment should be no surprise since India has dropped two places on a global press freedom index to be ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the annual Reporters Without Borders analysis released on Tuesday.

The report attributed the decline in the index to “pressure on the media to toe the nationalist government’s line”. The “coordinated hate campaigns” waged on social networks against journalists who dare to speak or write about subjects that annoy Hindutva followers are “alarming”.

“The campaigns are particularly virulent when the targets are women,” it said. India’s neighbors Pakistan and China fared even worse and were ranked 145 and 177 respectively.

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