Pulitzer-winning Kashmir journalist says international flight ban | Press Freedom News

Sanna Irshad Mattoo tells Al Jazeera she was prevented from going to Paris to attend a book launch and photo exhibition.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist from Indian-administered Kashmir said she was barred from traveling abroad by Indian authorities without giving valid reasons for her refusal.

Sanna Irshad Mattoo told Al Jazeera that she will be traveling from New Delhi to Paris on Saturday for a book launch and photo exhibition as one of the 10 winners of the 2020 Serendipity Arles Grant.

Mattoo, a resident of Srinagar, won the Pulitzer along with three other members of Reuters for their photos on the COVID-19 crisis in India.

“My flight was scheduled for Saturday afternoon. At immigration I was put aside and told to wait three hours. I kept asking the officials why until I missed the flight,” said the 28-year-old journalist.

Mattoo said she was later told she could not fly abroad. “But they didn’t provide an explanation,” she said.

“This is madness, there is nothing against me. One of the officers told me to check the reason from Kashmir where the instructions came from. I don’t understand why I was stopped,” Sana Al Jazeera said by phone from New Delhi Airport.

“I am very discouraged. I have been looking forward to this opportunity for a long time.”

Mattoo tweeted photos of her tickets and passport stamped “Cancelled Safely” by Indian Immigration officials.

Journalists and media watchdogs have criticized the move, calling it a “disturbing pattern”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the Indian government “must immediately end its practice of banning Kashmiri journalists from traveling abroad”.

“The travel bans are part of a systematic pattern of harassment of Kashmiri journalists, who have been increasingly subjected to arbitrary arrests, frivolous trials, threats, physical attacks and raids since August 2019,” she tweeted.

In recent years, a number of Indian journalists and activists have claimed that they have been prevented from traveling abroad by Indian authorities.

In April this year, Aakar Patel, the former head of Amnesty International in India, said he was prevented from flying to the United States over a criminal case filed in 2019 against the human rights organization’s Indian office.

Authorities said Patel was on the Central Bureau of Investigation’s “Lookout Circular” stopping a person wanted by law enforcement from flying abroad.

Days earlier, prominent Indian journalist Rana Ayyub was also prevented from boarding her flight to London where she was due to speak at an event on the targeting of journalists in India. She was later allowed to fly after approaching a court.

Both Patel and Ayyub have been vocal critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.

In 2019, Kashmiri journalist Gowhar Geelani claimed he was prevented from traveling to Europe at New Delhi airport.