Aged 26, Masrat Zahra was born and brought up in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, a territory claimed by Pakistan where she is one of the few women journalists covering the frequent clashes between Indian security forces and protesters.
She says she has both the “privilege” and “responsibility” to show the reality of the terrible human rights violations that take place in this conflict zone, including those inflicted on its women.
Her photos, which many of her colleagues recently praised to RSF, are often used by such international media outlets as The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, the Indian news website The Caravan, the British tabloid The Sun, the French magazine So Foot and the Turkish broadcaster TRT.
But she has also been the repeated target of police harassment and hate campaigns in connection with her photos, most recently in April when – after posting some of her old photos on Facebook – she was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act with “anti-national activities” on social media.
“By selecting Masrat Zahra, whose candidacy was proposed by RSF, the Peter Mackler Award is paying tribute to the courage of all those journalists who, as she herself says, risk their lives in the most difficult conditions,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Despite being subjected to brutal repression, Kashmiri journalists wage a daily battle to cover what is happening in their valley. This prestigious award is a powerful symbol and well-deserved recognition of their work for press freedom in Jammu and Kashmir.”
RSF returned to the subject of the constant press freedom violations in Kashmir a month ago, on the first anniversary of India’s decision to repeal the region’s partial autonomy and, at the same time, drastically restrict Internet access.
The authorities went even further in June when they unveiled an Orwellian project for regulating Kashmir’s media called the New Media Policy. India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
Of the 12 journalists to have been given the Peter Mackler Award, Zahra is the fourth woman, following Karla Rivas of Honduras in 2011, Pakistan’s Asma Shirazi in 2014 and Syria’s Zaina Erhaim in 2015. The prize will be awarded at an online ceremony organized by the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in New York on 24 September.
The Peter Mackler Award was created in 2008 in memory of Peter Mackler, a journalist from Brooklyn, New York, who defended ethical journalism and freedom of expression during his 35 years working for the media, mostly Agence France-Presse.
The prize is awarded to journalists who display courage and a commitment to media ethics while reporting in countries where press freedom is neither guaranteed nor recognized. It is administered by the Global Media Forum in partnership with RSF and AFP.