Pulitzer Winning Photographer Barred from Flying to U.S. To Accept Award

A photographer who was awarded a Pulitzer prize for her pictures of India’s coronavirus crisis has been stopped from flying to the U.S. to receive the award.

Indian immigration officials stopped Sanna Irshad Mattoo, a photographer who works with Reuters, from boarding her flight with no explanation.

Mattoo was on her way to attend the Pultizer award ceremony in New York. However, she was prevented from flying to the U.S. by immigration authorities at Delhi airport.

The photographer says she was stopped “despite having a valid visa and ticket.” Mattoo also posted a photograph of her ticket with a red stamp indicating that her travel had been canceled “without prejudice” on Twitter.

According to Mattoo, she was also barred from leaving India to visit Paris for a book launch and to attend a photography festival in July.

Mattoo lives in Indian-administered Kashmir and her photographs of India’s second wave of COVID-19, published by Reuters, earned her the prestigious prize for feature photography. She shared the award with three other Reuters photographers for their coverage of the pandemic.

Among Mattoo’s prize-winning pictures were images of healthcare workers carrying vaccines on horseback through rural areas to administer them to Kashmiri shepherds living in the remote alpine forests.

But other images capture everyday life in a state where the army has an overwhelming presence. The Pulitzer Prize website reads “Her work concentrates on depicting the tension between the seeming ordinariness of life and the stark symbols of a menacing militarised milieu of Kashmir.”

According to The Times, Mattoo’s supporters assume that the government, disliking how her work portrayed India, decided that she should not enjoy what the photographer said would be a “once-in-a lifetime” opportunity to attend the awards ceremony as a winner.

Mattoo tells The Times “I’m heartbroken. This was going to be the biggest moment of my life and instead, I am preparing to go back to Kashmir. I cannot even imagine what the reason could be. I have no idea. I have tried to contact officials to find out but I have got nowhere”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called the decision “arbitrary and excessive”. In a statement, it called on the Indian authorities to “immediately cease all forms of harassment and intimidation against journalists covering the situation in Kashmir.”

The Indian government has not made a statement yet on why she was stopped. However, this is the latest example of Indian journalists being denied freedom of movement. In July, Aakash Hassan who works for The Guardian, was stopped from flying to Sri Lanka.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.