MUMBAI, India – A Kashmiri photojournalist on the Pulitzer Prize-winning team this May was banned by Indian authorities from traveling to the United States to claim her award, the latest case of blatant harassment of the media of this country.
Photographer, Sanna Irshad Mattoo, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her reporting by Reuters news agency on India’s devastation last year during the second wave of Covid-19. She said immigration officers at New Delhi airport pulled her aside on Tuesday and stamped her plane ticket as “cancelled without prejudice”, offering no explanation. .
Ms. Mattoo already has a valid visa to the United States, as well as an invitation to the Pulitzer Prize ceremony on Thursday. Her Reuters colleagues – who were not from the disputed Kashmir region – were allowed to board the flight.
This is the second time in recent months that 28-year-old Mattoo has been banned from leaving the New Delhi airport. In July, authorities turned her down when she tried to go to Paris to attend another ceremony. “I have written to many departments involved if there is anything against me, any orders,” Ms. Mattoo said. “But there was no response.”
In a statement, Reuters said it “was not given an official explanation as to why she was not allowed to leave the country.”
India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees immigration at airports, did not respond to a request for comment. Kanchan Gupta, an adviser to India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, recently dismissed suggestions that there were any “coordinated attempts to manipulate or intimidate” journalists.
But Ms. Matto’s harassment by Indian authorities is the latest example of what human rights groups call the erosion of free speech in the country. According to these groups, the Indian government has weaponized its legal system and other levers of power to harass and intimidate journalists and activists, with the crackdown being particularly harsh in the country. part of the Indian-controlled Kashmir Valley, which has a dispute with Pakistan.
Persecution in Muslim-majority Kashmir intensified after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stripped the region of semi-autonomous rights in 2019 and placed it under the tight control of New Delhi. A number of journalists and activists have been arrested and jailed under laws that allow long periods of detention without trial and that make bail terms extremely difficult.
The Modi administration has argued that a change in the status quo of the region is necessary to root out military activity and improve development. But over the past year, wars in the region have only intensified, with attackers repeatedly targeting civilians from the Hindu minority.
The project journalists’ committee said in a statement that the decision to prevent Ms Mattoo from traveling was “arbitrary and excessive.”
“There is no reason why Kashmiri journalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo, who has all the right travel documents and has won the Pulitzer – one of the most prestigious journalism awards – should be prevented from traveling abroad,” said Beh Lih Yi, the organization’s Asia head. program coordinator. “The Indian authorities must immediately end all forms of harassment and intimidation against journalists covering the situation in Kashmir.”
In presenting the outstanding photography award to the Reuters team, the Pulitzer panel said the work of Ms. Mattoo, along with her colleagues Amit Dave, Adnan Abidi and the Danish Siddiqui, who were later killed by the Taliban when on a mission in Afghanistan – “Equal Proximity and Destruction.”
The second Covid wave has particularly affected India’s urban centres, with overwhelmed hospitals running out of oxygen and patients dying in parking lots. The Indian government has tried to downplay the numbers, lashing out against foreign media coverage of the devastation, especially photos of round-the-clock mass cremations. to meet the needs.
Hari Kumar Contribution reports from New Delhi.