Sana Irshad Mattoo, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, revealed on Tuesday that she was prevented from travelling to New York. She was on her way to the United States to accept the worldwide prize when she was detained by immigration officials at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. In a tweet, she stated that she was carrying a valid US visa and a plane ticket.
In July, the 28-year-old was also barred from visiting the United States. The government has banned the freedom of a number of Kashmiri journalists, notably Aakash Hassan and Gowhar Geelani, to travel overseas since 2019. In March of this year, journalist Rana Ayyub was detained by immigration and denied boarding an aircraft to London.
While Ayyub and Patel’s travel rights were allegedly restricted in connection with ongoing charges against them, and they later received relief from Delhi courts, it is unclear whether Mattoo has any pending FIRs against her.
The standards that regulate this issue and are used to prevent a person from travelling overseas, are as follows:
- Article 21
Article 21 of the constitution states that the right to travel is a part of one’s liberty. “The right to travel abroad is an important basic human right,” the Supreme Court stated in April 2019. “It nurtures the independent and self-determining creative character of the individual, not only by increasing his freedoms of action, but also by extending the scope of his experience.” However, as is widely acknowledged, even fundamental rights can be curtailed “in accordance with the procedure established by law”
- The Passport Act and Lookout Circulars (LOCs)
The 1967 Act regulates the issuance of travel papers including passports. The central government may suspend a passport or other travel document under certain circumstances, as stated in Section 10A of the Act, “in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of India, the friendly relations of India with any foreign country, or in the interests of the general public.” Upon receiving notification from the designated authority or central government, an immigration authority may intervene to stop a person from leaving.
The Centre published instructions for the issuance of lookout circulars in 1979 regarding the arrival and departure of individuals whose travel was restricted or prohibited by the investigating agencies.
Following the Delhi High Court’s rulings in the cases of Vikram Sharma v. Union of India and Sumer Singh Salkan versus Asst. Director & Ors., the rules were modified in 2010. Although there have been numerous changes since then, the Ministry of Home Affairs last revised the rules in February 2021.
The Bureau of Immigration (BoI) opens a LOC against a person upon receiving a request from the authority concerned, which are top officials in the central government or law enforcement agencies. An LOC may also be issued by a district magistrate or a superintendent of the police. The issuance of LOC may also be ordered by criminal courts.
According to the regulations, the originating agency is responsible for the legal consequences of any action taken by immigration authorities as a result of the LOC.
The instructions are very explicit that the LOC subject cannot be detained, arrested, or prohibited from leaving the country when there is no offence that would be punishable under the IPC or other penal laws. In such circumstances, the originating agency may only ask to be notified of the subject’s arrival or departure.
However, the recommendations also specify that LOCs may be issued and departure may be refused even in situations that may not be covered by the criteria, if departure of such a person is considered,
“Detrimental to the sovereignty or security or integrity of India or that the same is detrimental to the bilateral relations with any country or to the strategic and/or economic interests of India or if such person is allowed to leave, he may potentially indulge in an act of terrorism, or offences against the State and/or that such departure ought not be permitted in the larger public interest at any given point of time.”
The immigration officials are required to stop the people against whom the LOC has been issued as long as the LOC is in effect. According to the standards, “The LOC opened shall stay in force until and unless a deletion request is received by BOI from the Originator Itself.”The Originator is obligated to continue examining the LoCs on a quarterly and annual basis and to submit any deletion proposals to the BOI right away.