Washington: Expressing its commitment to press freedom, the United States (US) has said that it is closely tracking the case of Pulitzer Prize winner Sanna Irshad Mattoo — a Kashmiri journalist who claimed that immigration authorities in New Delhi stopped her from travelling to New York to receive her award despite a valid passport and US visa.
The case also resonated on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. US Congressman, Adam Schiff, who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that he was “disturbed” to hear that Mattoo was barred from flying to accept the Pulitzer and that “efforts to harass and silence the media” must end.
Schiff is a senior figure in the Democratic Party and is viewed as a close confidant of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Responding to a question about Mattoo’s claim she was stopped from travelling to New York, State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said that the US was aware of the reports. “We are aware of the reports of Ms Mattoo being prevented from travelling to the US and are tracking these developments closely. We are committed to supporting press freedom. And as the Secretary has noted, a shared commitment to democratic values, including respect for the independence of the press, is a bedrock of the US-India relationship. But I don’t have any other specifics to offer, but we are tracking this closely,” Patel said at a regular departmental press briefing on Wednesday.
Patel’s reference was possibly to the secretary of state Antony Blinken’s remarks at a joint press appearance with external affairs minister S Jaishankar on September 27. Blinken then said, “We have to work together to show that our democracies can meet our people’s needs, and we must continue to hold ourselves – both of us, as well as our fellow democracies – to our core values, including respect for universal human rights like freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression, which makes our democracies stronger.”
Asked if the US had raised the issue with the Indian foreign ministry, Patel said he was not aware of it and could not speak for any diplomatic engagement on the issue. “But when we have anything to update, certainly we’ll share it with this group,” he told reporters.
Schiff tweeted that he was “disturbed to hear Kashmiri journalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo was barred from flying to accept a Pulitzer for her coverage of COVID-19’s toll in India”.
“Freedom of the press is a bedrock of any democracy. India should be no exception. Efforts to harass and silence the media must end.”