Kashmiri journalist and author Gowhar Geelani was barred by Indian officials from flying abroad, apparently in light of the situation in occupied Kashmir, media reported on Sunday.
Geelani, who recently rejoined German news agency Deutsche Welle as an editor, was going to attend an eight-day conference in Bonn.
According to The Wire, he was stopped at the immigration desk of Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi for more than an hour before being denied permission to travel abroad.
“On the intervening night of August 31 and September 1 2019 I was to fly to Bonn, Germany, in Lufthansa Airlines (LH 763) plane via Munich with the sole aim of attending advanced journalist training programme as Editor of Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international public broadcaster, at its headquarters in Bonn,” The Wire quoted Geelani as saying.
The journalist said that he would have returned on September 8, immediately after the conclusion of the workshop.
According to The Indian Express, Geelani was detained "based on a request by the Intelligence Bureau".
“I had checked in, and at the Immigration was asked by the staff to accompany them to a room, where an officer, who identified himself as Abhishek, told me that they have instructions not to allow me to leave the country,” the publication quoted Geelani as saying.
When the journalist sought an explanation, he was told, ‘Aap jaante hai aajkal kafi diqqat hai Kashmir ko lekar’ (You know there are many difficulties nowadays what with the Kashmir situation).
Upon protesting, the Kashmiri journalist was allegedly informed by the immigration official, “Sir, you cannot fly abroad […] J&K state government has flagged the issue,” The Wire reported.
The immigration officials said they were helpless and were only "following orders".
Geelani waited for five hours before he got his passport and checked-in luggage back, according to The Wire.
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“I am a published author, broadcast journalist, television analyst and political commentator. Last month, my book Kashmir: Rage and Reason was released by Rupa Publications. I do not understand what unknown crimes I have committed for which I was denied my right to employment, right to travel, and the right to free speech,” he said.
Geelani told The Print that in 13 years of extensive travel this was the first time he had been prevented from boarding a flight.
“I’ve missed my training programme. This is not only curtailing my right to travel and speech, but my right to employment,” he said.
A number of prominent Kashmiris have been held or prevented from travelling freely ever since the Indian government revoked occupied Jammu and Kashmir's special status on August 5.
Earlier this month, Indian Administrative Service officer-turned politician Shah Faesal was also stopped at the IGI airport while on his way to Boston.
“I think the government is paranoid right now, because of the complete lockdown no stories are getting out of Kashmir,” he told The Print. “So any Kashmiri that has some voice, be it from civil society or trade or politics — if they go abroad and speak to people then stories will break this silence.”
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Senior lawyer Vrinda Grover called the action completely “unconstitutional”, according to The Print.
“He was going in connection with an employment opportunity; we have nothing to show that he was going there to speak,” she said.
“Any Kashmiri travelling out of the country is going to say things that the government doesn’t like, which is clearly an apprehension that the government is fearful of because that runs counter to what the government and its media is churning out with a complete embargo on communication and information."
“These individuals then become the force of truth and facts and that is why they’re being barred,” she said, adding that “Unless the Indian media stands up and fights this battle, you’re really leaving it to your Kashmiri counterparts, and I think that’s a tragedy.”
Kashmiri lawyers detained under Public Safety Act
A former president of the Kashmir High Court Bar Association, Nazir Ahmed Ronga, is being held under the Public Safety Act, The Wire reported on Saturday.
A lawyer from the association said that Ronga was arrested on August 4, a day before India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party repealed Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and placed occupied Kashmir under lockdown.
The Public Safety Act (PSA) allows imprisonment for up to six months without a trial, according to The Wire.
In the PSA dossier accessed by the publication, Ronga has been charged for "his potential to mobilise people to participate in voting even when a boycott was called".
The former president has also been charged with "raising his voice against the revocation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories on August 5".
Moreover, the incumbent president of the association, Mian Abdul Qayoom, has also been booked under the Act and has been sent to jail in Agra.
One of the charges against Qayoom in the PSA dossier says that Qayoom has emerged over time as one of the “staunch advocates of secession ideology”.
He has also been "accused of giving calls during the 2008 agitation when massive protests broke out against the transfer of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board", reported The Wire citing the dossier.
Update: DW has termed Indian media reports that Gowhar Geelani had recently re-joined DW as an editor to be false, saying the terms of employment are not finalised yet. The journalist, however, has worked for DW in the past.