Gowhar Geelani, a well-known Kashmiri journalist who works for the German radio and TV station Deutsche Welle, was last night stopped from flying out of New Delhi’s international airport to attend an “Editors’ Advanced Programme” in Bonn.
Geelani—who believes both India and Pakistan should stay off Kashmir—was stopped by an immigration official after he had obtained his boarding passes, and told: “Aajkal Kashmir ko lekar kafi diqqat hai.”
The DW reporter had recently done an interview with a Kashmiri girl who flew from Delhi to Srinagar, and walked 18 km to her home, to deliver insulin for her diabetic father.
NDTV’s founder Prannoy Roy was similarly stopped from leaving the country for his 70th birthday celebration, with wife Radhika Roy. As was Geelani’s state mate, Shah Faesal, an IAS officer turned politician who was on his way to Harvard University via Istanbul.
Below is Gowhar Geelani’s account of what happened.
By GOWHAR GEELANI
On the intervening night of 31 August and 01 September 2019 I was to fly to Bonn, Germany, in Lufthansa Airlines (LH 763) plane via Munich with the sole aim of attending advanced journalist training programme as an Editor of Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international public broadcaster, at its headquarters in Bonn.
After checking in at around 9 pm (IST) and taking my boarding passes for both flights I reached the immigration counter at around 9:15 pm (IST). After scanning my travel documents as a matter of routine the immigration officer suddenly told me to wait and stop. Immediately, he went to his seniors and returned after about ten minutes. Another immigration officer, who later identified himself as Mr Abhishek, came with him and after a while told me to accompany him.
I was asked to sit in a room where one Sikh lady was also waiting. She had to fly to the United States, but was off-loaded because of some pending court case in her village in Punjab.
Meanwhile, Mr Abhishek appeared after 15-20 minutes and told me that “Aap jaante hai aajkal kafi diqqat hai Kashmir ko lekar”. I politely asked him what the problem was. He didn’t give any answer and asked me to wait again for 15 minutes or so.
An hour passed by and he kept coming to me at regular intervals and told me that he was talking to his seniors. He was polite all the way.
Finally, he returned to convey to me that “Sorry, you are not allowed to travel”. I said: “Would you please give it in writing and explain what the issue is.” He refused to give any such explanation and said that “I am only following orders of my seniors.” “Aajkal Kashmir ko lekar kafi diqqat hai”, he kept repeating the line.
I tried to enquire what my fault was and why was I being denied my right to employment and right to travel, but he wouldn’t answer my questions. He kept repeating the line “I am only following the orders of my seniors.”
My passport and boarding passes were with him all this while until he categorically told me that “Sir, you cannot fly abroad.” “J&K state government has flagged the issue.”
I tried to reason with him that I was a published author, journalist, regular commentator on TV, Munich Young Leader, Chevening fellow. And I was to attend an advanced journalist training programme and were to return by 8 September. He said “Yes, that I know. But Sir, you know how it is these days.” Then he also gave me water from his own water bottle.
I remained at the immigration and Lufthansa counter from 9 pm until 1 am. My passport and luggage still not with me. It took more time to get my passport and luggage back. Finally, I left the airport around 2 am. Tried to check in at three hotels nearby, but all of them were sold out.
I am a published author, broadcast journalist, television analyst and political commentator. Last month, my book Kashmir: Rage and Reason was released by Rupa Publications. I do not understand what unknown crimes I have committed for which I was denied my right to employment, right to travel, and right to free speech.
I feel threatened in Delhi and Kashmir. I fear for my life, family and career.
Kashmir deserves freedom of expression, and freedom after expression.
Also read: Gowhar Geelani on fidayeen TV anchors