Indian authorities blocked a Pulitzer Prize-winning Kashmiri photojournalist from boarding a flight to Paris where she was due to attend a book launch and photography exhibition showcasing her photos of Kashmir.
Sanna Irshad Mattoo, who works for Reuters as a multimedia journalist from Indian-administered Kashmir, was arrested at Delhi airport on Saturday by immigration officers, despite holding a valid French visa.
Mattoo shared the Pulitzer Prize in May in the feature photography category with three other agency photographers for the group’s photographic coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic in India.
She is one of the 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020 and was going to participate in a festival organized by the association in Paris.
“Other winners will take part in the Paris festival and my photos will be exhibited there, but I won’t be there despite being a winner. It was the first time I attended a festival related to photography. I am indeed disappointed that I cannot be there now,” she said.
“Delhi immigration officials asked me to wait over two hours at the airport before they said I would not be allowed to board the flight. I asked them why they were arresting me. They said they didn’t know the exact reasons.
“However, they said that the instruction to stop me from leaving the country came from Kashmir. But I contacted my sources in the police administration in Kashmir and they said there was nothing against me.
India’s Home Ministry, which oversees the immigration authority, has not issued any statement on Mattoo’s ban on flying abroad. Phone calls to the Interior Ministry went unanswered.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said the travel bans were
part of a “systematic pattern of harassment against Kashmiri journalists, who have increasingly faced arbitrary arrests, frivolous lawsuits, threats, physical attacks and raids since August 2019”.
At least three Kashmiri journalists working for international media have been barred by Indian authorities from flying abroad in recent years.
“Restriction of freedom of movement is another tool of repression and harassment used against independent journalists in India – particularly those from religious and ethnic minority groups and those reporting from Kashmir,” said Julie Posetti, vice president of global research at the International Center for Journalists.
Posetti said Mattoo and others were
“to be muted in retaliation for their critical reporting and commentary.”
Rohit Chopra, an associate professor at Santa Clara University, said the decision was “part of a pattern of paranoia and pettiness.”
“Obviously the concern is that Mattoo is drawing attention to the disastrous consequences of Modi’s policies in Kashmir and the grim human rights situation there,” Chopra said. “The Indian government may say the decision is driven by national security concerns, but it is more a reflection of national insecurity. This is another step in India’s descent into a state of total authoritarianism.