The Kashmiri journalist was prevented from flying to the US to accept the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.
Kashmiri journalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo, who was prevented by Indian authorities from flying to the United States to accept her Pulitzer Prize, told Al Jazeera she was “heartbroken”. It was the second time in less than six months that the photographer was prevented from leaving the country.
“This was a once in a lifetime moment for me to receive the Pulitzer Prize. But I got stopped for no reason. I am very heartbroken and disappointed.” Sanna told Al Jazeera.
The 28-year-old photojournalist was one of four Reuters journalists to receive the Pulitzer for their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I can’t even describe how I feel. I was stopped and my passport stamped ‘cancelled without prejudice’. I tried to reach many officials but nobody answered me. This is a massive setback to my career,” she said.
She was stopped and prevented from boarding by immigration authorities at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi late Tuesday.
I was on my way to get the Pulitzer Prize ( @PulitzerPrices) in New York, but I was stopped at Delhi airport at immigration and not allowed to travel abroad despite having a valid US visa and ticket. pic.twitter.com/btGPiLlasK
— Sanna Irshad Mattoo (@mattoosanna) October 18, 2022
In July, she was similarly stopped at the same airport en route to Paris for a book launch and photo exhibition.
She is among several Kashmiri journalists and activists who have been prevented from leaving the country for their coverage of the decades-long conflict in the Himalayan region.
India’s Hindu nationalist government has intensified its crackdown on journalists and activists after it abolished the region’s special status in 2019. The region’s legislature remains suspended and governed directly from New Delhi, restricting the democratic rights of local people.
Tens of thousands of Kashmiris have been killed in Kashmir since a rebellion against Indian rule began in 1989. More than half a million troops are permanently stationed in the region, making Kashmir one of the most militarized zones in the world. India says armed forces are deployed to quell armed resistance.
Kashmir is a disputed territory, with both India and Pakistan claiming the region in its entirety. South Asia’s arch-enemies only govern parts of the region.
Foreign journalists have faced restrictions in covering Kashmir, and local reporters based in the area say they have come under pressure to tone down their work.
Laxmi Murthy, a member of the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI), told Al Jazeera: “The restrictions on Sanna Mattoo’s international travel are an unacceptable violation of her right to free movement”.
“It is an irreplaceable loss of a significant milestone in her professional journey: receiving the Pulitzer Prize, one of journalism’s most prestigious awards. By barring them from travel again, the government is again showing their fear of independent journalism,” Murthy said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a US-based surveillance agency, called the restrictions on Mattoo “arbitrary and excessive”.
“There is no reason why Kashmiri journalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo, who had the correct travel documents and won a Pulitzer Prize – one of the most prestigious journalism awards – should be prevented from traveling abroad,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator said in a statement on Wednesday.
“This decision is arbitrary and excessive. The Indian authorities must immediately stop all forms of harassment and intimidation of journalists covering the situation in Kashmir.”
A 30-year-old Kashmiri journalist, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, told Al Jazeera: “It’s hard not to see this ban as a form of collective punishment of Kashmiri journalists for their professional work in debilitating situations.
“What is disheartening about this trend is that not a single journalist who has been barred from traveling abroad has found it worth challenging these arbitrary bans in court.
“This speaks volumes about the victims’ trust in the judicial institutions,” he said, referring to similar restrictions imposed on several Kashmiri journalists in recent years.
Independent journalist Aakash Hassan, a regular at the Guardian newspaper, was barred from boarding a plane from New Delhi to Sri Lanka to work in July.