India criticised over arbitrary travel bans after photojournalist blocked from Pulitzer trip

Sanna Irshad Mattoo says she was barred from taking a flight to New York where she was scheduled to receive the 2022 Pulitzer Prize

Indian authorities have been criticised after a Kashmiri photojournalist said she was barred from taking a flight to New York where she was scheduled to receive the 2022 Pulitzer prize.

Sanna Irshad Mattoo, 27, was in a team of Reuters photographers who had won a Pulitzer for feature photography for their coverage of the coronavirus crisis in India.

“The immigration officials stopped me at the New Delhi airport while my colleagues were allowed to go,” Mattoo said. “They told me that I cannot take the flight but did not tell me the reason behind it.”

It is the second time Mattoo has been stopped by Indian authorities from travelling abroad. In July, she was stopped by immigration officials while taking a flight to Paris, where she was to take part in a book launch and photography exhibition displaying her photos from Kashmir.

“I reached out to different officials after I was barred from travelling in July but got no response or acknowledgment,” she said. “Being able to attend the award ceremony was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. But the way authorities again stopped me was humiliating.”

Mattoo is not the first journalist to be stopped by the Indian authorities from travelling abroad. At least four more Kashmiri journalists have been stopped from travelling abroad in the past two years in what is believed to be part of a larger crackdown on journalists from the region, disputed between India, Pakistan and China.

Press freedom bodies have condemned the action and raised serious concern over this growing trend.

“This decision is arbitrary and excessive. Indian authorities must immediately cease all forms of harassment and intimidation against journalists covering the situation in Kashmir,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator.

Aakar Patel, chair of the board of Amnesty International India, said arbitrary travel bans are being used by Indian authorities to silence independent and critical voices.

“These arbitrary executive actions are not backed by any court order, warrant or even a written explanation, making it difficult for the activists and journalists to challenge these in the courts,” he said. “This has led to the authorities routinely using travel bans as a preferred tool in the wider crackdown on dissent. This is a blatant violation of human rights and must end now.”

Authorities in India’s ministry of home affairs, and Kashmir’s police chief, Vijay Kumar, refused to comment on the incident.


Aakash Hassan in New Delhi

The GuardianTramp

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