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India bars Kashmiri journalist from travelling to US to receive Pulitzer

This was not Sanna Irshad Mattoo's first time being barred from travelling internationally as a Kashmiri journalist
Sanna Irshad Mattoo, seen at her residence in Srinagar when she won the Pulitzer (Reuters)

A Kashmiri photojournalist was on her way to the US to attend the Pulitzer award ceremony, where she was set to receive one of the most prestigious awards in journalism. But when she got to the Indira Gandhi International Airport on Tuesday night, she was stopped at immigration and barred from travelling. 

Sanna Irshad Mattoo said that immigration officers at the New Delhi airport pulled her aside and stamped her airline ticket “cancelled without prejudice”, offering no explanation.

Mattoo has an Indian passport and was holding a valid US visa and ticket, she said on Twitter. So when she was stopped from travelling, she was heartbroken. 

“Being able to attend the award ceremony was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me,” she wrote.

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Mattoo is based in Indian-administered Kashmir's city of Srinagar. She is part of a four-member Reuters team which won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for their coverage of the Covid pandemic in India. Her other colleagues who were travelling with her were allowed to board the flight. But they are not from the Kashmir region, the New York Times reported

Decision is 'arbitrary and excessive'

According to Beh Lih Yi, the Asian programme coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mattoo should not have been barred, especially since she had all of the right travel documents. 

“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 travelling abroad,” the statement said. 

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

In a statement, Reuters said they were not given a reason for Mattoo being barred from travelling.

“We are disappointed that Sanna Irshad Mattoo, a contributor to Reuters, has not been allowed to travel to the United States to receive her Pulitzer Prize in New York alongside her peers,” the statement said. 

"We have not been offered an official explanation as to why she has not been allowed to leave the country, but we believe that journalists should be able to travel freely.”

Journalists in Indian-administered Kashmir have long been scrutinised by authorities who also strictly control access for foreign reporters travelling there. Journalists who are on the ground often face restrictions.

This was not the first time Mattoo has been barred from flying internationally. In July, she tweeted that immigration officials in New Delhi stopped her from flying to France where she was going to attend a book launch and photography exhibition.

She said that she had reached out to several officials after that incident, but never received a response. 

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