A photojournalist from Jammu and Kashmir, Masrat Zahra was charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act by the J&K Police for allegedly uploading “anti-national posts” on her social media accounts.
Zahra, a freelance photojournalist, reports mostly about women and children in conflict.
Her work has been published in various national and international news publications including Washington Post, TRT World, Al Jazeera, The New Humanitarian and The Caravans.
A first information report has also been filed against Zahra under Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code, which punishes those who induce others to commit an offence against the state or against public tranquillity.
According to a statement issued by J-K Police on Monday, April 20, they have registered a case against 26-year-old Masrat Zahra under section 13 of UA(P) Act and 505-IPC in Cyber Police Station, Kashmir Zone.
“Cyber Police Station received information through reliable sources that one Facebook user namely “Masrat Zahra” is uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquillity,”
The Indian Express quoted a statement issued by the J-K Police on Monday, April 20, as saying.
“The Facebook user is also believed to be uploading photographs which can provoke the public to disturb law and order. The user is also uploading posts that tantamount to glorify the anti-national activities and dent the image of law enforcing agencies besides causing disaffection against the country,” it added.
J&K Peoples Democratic Party while Condemning the arrest of Zahra, tweeted, “Anyone not toeing the statist line is reportedly harassed, intimated & a vilification campaign unleashed. Journalists in Kashmir work in hostile conditions to keep the public informed sometimes even at the cost of their lives.”
“Slapping UAPA an anti terrorism law against Masrat Zahra a female journalist for merely representing a contrarian view is a manifestation of the urge to control the tone & tempo of the conversation in & on Kashmir,” it added.
Journalists in Kashmir have also come out in support of Zahra and demanded revocation of the FIR against her.
“Masrat Zahra is a professional photojournalist who has honestly told the stories of people in her career spanning four years. The police have invoked stringent provisions of draconian UAPA against her, which is outrageous,” journalist Bilal Kuchay wrote on Facebook. “We stand in solidarity with our colleague and seek that the FIR against her is immediately revoked. Journalism is not a crime.”
WHAT IS THE AMENDED UAPA ACT 2019
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha by the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Amit Shah, on July 8, 2019. The Bill amends the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. The Act provides special procedures to deal with terrorist activities, among other things.
Who may commit terrorism: Under the Act, the central government may designate an organisation as a terrorist organisation if it: (i) commits or participates in acts of terrorism, (ii) prepares for terrorism, (iii) promotes terrorism, or (iv) is otherwise involved in terrorism. The Bill additionally empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists on the same grounds.
Approval for seizure of property by NIA: Under the Act, an investigating officer is required to obtain the prior approval of the Director General of Police to seize properties that may be connected with terrorism. The Bill adds that if the investigation is conducted by an officer of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the approval of the Director General of NIA would be required for seizure of such property.
Investigation by NIA: Under the Act, investigation of cases may be conducted by officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police or above. The Bill additionally empowers the officers of the NIA, of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases.
Insertion to schedule of treaties: The Act defines terrorist acts to include acts committed within the scope of any of the treaties listed in a schedule to the Act. The Schedule lists nine treaties, including the Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997), and the Convention against Taking of Hostages (1979). The Bill adds another treaty to the list. This is the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005).
The UAPA Amendment Act widens the power of the state by enabling it to designate individuals as “terrorists” without following any new procedure and by providing the accused no effective means of redress.
Masrat zahra Instagram page-