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India ‘stops’ Pulitzer-winning Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to US

India has stopped Kashmiri photojournalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo from travelling to New York, where she was scheduled to receive a Pulitzer Prize for photography.

“I was on my way to receive the Pulitzer award (@Pulitzerprizes) in New York but I was stopped at immigration at Delhi airport and barred from travelling internationally despite holding a valid US visa and ticket,” Mattoo tweeted.

“This is the second time I have been stopped without reason or cause. Despite reaching out to several officials after what happened a few months ago but I never received any response. Being able to attend the award ceremony was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” she added.

On July 2, she was scheduled to travel from New Delhi to Paris for a book launch and photography exhibition as one of 10 award winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020.

Mattoo was stopped at immigration and her boarding pass was stamped “cancelled without prejudice.”

A resident of Srinagar, the 28-year-old works as a photojournalist for the international wire agency Reuters.

She won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in feature photography along with three other Reuters photographers for their coverage of the Covid pandemic in India.

Like Mattoo, independent Kashmiri journalist Aakash Hassan was on July 26 stopped by immigration authorities at New Delhi airport from travelling to Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, where he was to cover the country’s economic crisis.

His boarding pass was also stamped “cancelled without prejudice.” He had told the media that officials made him wait for five hours and quizzed him before telling him he couldn’t travel.

Media reports said Mattoo had been placed on a no-fly list which has the names of people who are barred from international travel, after India revoked Kashmir’s limited autonomy and annexed it, sparking tensions with Pakistan and China. 

“There is no reason why Kashmiri journalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo, who had all the right travel documents and has won a Pulitzer – one of the most prestigious journalism awards – should have been prevented from traveling abroad,” said Beh Lih Yi, the Committee to Protect Journalists‘ Asia program coordinator, in Frankfurt, Germany.

“This decision is arbitrary and excessive. Indian authorities must immediately cease all forms of harassment and intimidation against journalists covering the situation in Kashmir.”

READ MORE: To be Kashmiri, a woman, and a journalist

READ MORE: Voiceless no more: The Russell Tribunal on Kashmir

Sikh leader prevented from entering Kashmir

Earlier in the day, Simranjit Singh Mann, a Sikh member of India’s parliament, wrote on his Twitter account that police stopped him from entering Kashmir “without assigning any reason.”

“I have a Constitutional right to be represented by a lawyer, which isn’t being allowed. Union Home Minister Mr. (Amit) Shah says there is complete peace in J&K. Thus I see no reason to prevent the entry of a peaceful delegation, visiting and enquiring upon the people of J&K. Our Party is against such tyranny and special powers given to the army to kill, molest, kidnap, murder and detain any Kashmiri with impunity,” Mann tweeted.

Mann is a votary of “Khalistan,” a movement by Sikhs to create a separate and independent homeland for the minority community in India. 

He was stopped at the border between India-administered Kashmir and his native home, the Indian state of Punjab.

Rahul Pandey, a magistrate who had issued orders stopping Mann’s entry, said, “his visit was likely to cause disturbance in public tranquility.”

READ MORE: UK-based research firm accuses India of silencing journalists in Kashmir

Heavily militarised region 

Kashmir has been claimed by both sides since British rule of the subcontinent ended 75 years ago and Pakistan and India were born.

Rebels in the India-administered portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebels’ goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

India calls the Himalayan region an “integral part” of its nation and is against holding a UN-backed plebiscite there. Pakistan sees Kashmir as an unfinished business of partition and its “jugular vein.” 

India-administered Kashmir remains one of the world’s most militarised regions, where India has deployed more than 500,000 troops. 

Tens of thousands, mostly civilians, have lost their lives in decades of conflict. 

READ MORE: Pulitzer-winning Kashmiri photojournalist stopped from flying to Paris

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