Global Body Condemns Move to Stop Scribe From Leaving India; ‘Aware of Reports’ Says US State Dept

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New Delhi: The United States is aware of reports of Pulitzer-winning Kashmiri journalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo allegedly being prevented from travelling to the country, a State Department official said, according to the news agency PTI. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which promotes press freedom worldwide, has condemned the move as well.

Mattoo had alleged on October 18 that she was stopped from flying out of the country at the IGI Airport in New Delhi while on her way to receive the Pulitzer prize. This is the second time that Mattoo has been stopped from flying out of India.

In July, Mattoo had tweeted that that she was stopped while going to Paris for a book launch and photography exhibition as one of 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles grant 2020.

Mattoo had told The Wire then that immigration officials gave no particular reason for stopping her. “All that they shared was that they have information from SSP CID or some such officer of Kashmir to stop me,” Mattoo had said, adding that she did not know then if there were FIRs pending against her or any other action being taken.

‘Press freedom’

“We are aware of the reports of Ms Mattoo being prevented from travelling to the US and are tracking these developments closely,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters at his daily news conference.

“We are committed to supporting press freedom. And as the secretary has noted, a shared commitment to democratic values, including the respect for the independence of the press, is a bedrock of the US-India relationship,” he said.

“But I don’t have any other specifics to offer we are tracking this closely,” Patel said in response to a question.

Mattoo, a freelance photojournalist, was part of a Reuters team that won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in India.

CPJ says ‘there is no reason’ Mattoo should be stopped

In a statement, the Committee to Protect Journalists urged Indian officials to let Mattoo travel to the US to attend the Pulitzer awards ceremony.

“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, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.

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

The press release noted that since August 2019, when the Indian government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special autonomy status, Kashmiri journalists have told CPJ that they are being barred from travelling abroad.

In 2022, India ranked 150th out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders. This is the India’s lowest ever rank on this index.

(With PTI inputs)

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