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Kashmiri Pulitzer Winner Blocked from Traveling to Receive Award

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Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo from Kashmir has been stopped by the Indian authorities from flying to Paris, where she was set to attend a book launch and take part in a photography exhibition featuring her photos from Kashmir.
Sanna Irshad Mattoo, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist from Indian-administered Kashmir, said Tuesday on Twitter that she had been stopped by immigration authorities in New Delhi from boarding a flight to New York to receive her award.

“I was on my way to receive the Pulitzer award in New York, but I was stopped at immigration at Delhi airport and barred from traveling internationally despite holding a valid U.S. visa and ticket,” Mattoo tweeted.

“This is the second time I have been stopped without reason or cause,” she added. “Despite reaching out to several officials after what happened few months ago but I never received [any] response. Being able to attend the award ceremony was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me.”

“This is a huge shame,” said Geeta Seshu, founder of the Free Speech Collective, an independent organization that advocates press freedom, in reaction to Mattoo’s tweet. “Totally condemnable. It is incomprehensible. What on Earth does the Indian government fear!”

VOA has reached out to the Pulitzer organization for a comment but did not immediately receive a reply.

Mattoo posted a photograph of her passport with a U.S. visa and her ticket with a red stamp indicating that her travel had been canceled “without prejudice.” The same thing happened in July when she was blocked from traveling to Paris for a book launch and the Arles Rencontres photography festival in France.

Mattoo won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for her coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in India.

The U.S. State Department said it was aware of the reports that Mattoo had been prevented from traveling to the United States and is tracking developments.

Earlier this year, Kashmiri journalist Aakash Hassan was blocked from flying to Sri Lanka and in 2019 Gowhar Geelani was stopped from traveling to Germany.

According to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, India’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index this year dropped to 150th place from previous year's 142nd rank out of 180 nations, in which 1 is the freest.

“The violence against journalists, the politically partisan media and the concentration of media ownership all demonstrate that press freedom is in crisis in ‘the world’s largest democracy,’” RSF said.

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