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India

While Mohd Zubair’s Arrest Causes Uproar, No Support For 3 Kashmiri Journalists Jailed For Months

Aasif Sultan, Peerzada Fahad Shah and Sajad Gul, all three Kashmiri Muslim journalists have been behind the bars for months now. All of them are seen by the government as a threat to “public safety” in general.

Kashmiri journalists
The three Kashmiri journalists have been behind the bars for months now.

Alt News co-founder Mohammad Zubair’s arrest allegedly for “promoting enmity” has resulted in widespread condemnation globally with activists and Opposition calling this “an assault on truth”. But away from the media glare, in Kashmir, at least three journalists remain incarcerated with little activism demanding their release.

There have been no tweets by any prominent Opposition leader and neither has support poured in for them globally or nationally except for a few local politicians and press freedom organisations tweeting to condemn their arrest.

Aasif Sultan, Peerzada Fahad Shah and Sajad Gul, all three Kashmiri Muslim journalists have been behind the bars for months now. All of them are seen by the government as a threat to “public safety” in general.

They are booked under the J&K Public Safety Act which says the government may order detention if it is “satisfied with respect to any person that with a view to preventing him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the State or the maintenance of the public order”.

ALSO READ: Alt News Journalist Mohammed Zubair Sent To 4 Day Police Custody

The draft of the Act stated that in cases related to detention in the above-mentioned section, the maximum period of keeping the suspect incarcerated is “six months in the first instance which may be extended up to two years”.

A Father

Aasif Sultan, one of the arrested journalists, was behind bars for over 1,312 days after he was taken from his home in the middle of the night by forces on August 27, 2018. Initially booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), Sultan was charged with “harnessing militants”.

His arrest came less than two months after he wrote a story titled “The Rise Of Burhan” about slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in local Srinagar-based magazine Kashmir Narrator. In that story, he had talked to friends and overground workers of the commander to cobble out details of his life.

According to people familiar with the case, Sultan was asked to reveal sources of his story which he refused to and was thus slapped with a UAPA. Almost four years in the jail, a Srinagar-based lawyer was pleading his case. His little daughter and wife have no credible support from any international or national rights organisation.

A Twitter account run by anonymous people campaigning for his release had posted on Eid in June 2020 that “Areeba (his daughter) was just 6 months old when her father was illegally arrested in the middle of the night in August 2018. She is now 2.5 years old, and asks about him every day”. On Eid, Areeba painted a message requesting to release her father. The message read “Free My Baba”.

A message written by Aasif Sultan’s Daughter Areeba posted on Twitter.

It added that to date, charges against him have not been made public, and nor have the court hearings taken place at the scheduled time.

A Trainee Reporter

In a similar fashion another budding journalist Sajad Gul was arrested by the Jammu and Kashmir Police on January 5, 2022, from his Bandipora residence. But a few months earlier, in October 2021, police had reportedly called him for questioning at the local police station in Bandipora. Gul accused the police of deleting his tweets after snatching his laptop and phone.

He also accused the police of intimidating him and asking him to keep silent on whatever unfolded in the police station. Gul was working with The Kashmir Walla as a trainee reporter.

His questioning in the police station carried out shortly after he tweeted a series of videos where a family of a local boy in his village at Bandipora was seen wailing as they alleged the Jammu and Kashmir police of executing a fake encounter of their son who police said was a militant associated with The Resistance Front (TRF).

In the videos that he shared and a story that he wrote for a local magazine, The Mountain Ink, there were no opinions of Gul but only the quotes from the family of the slain.

However, he did not keep silent and spoke to the media about his harassment at the Bandipora police station. Two months later the same police booked him under various charges which included sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), and 505B (fear or alarm to the public) of the Indian Penal Code.

Ten days later the court granted him bail while mandating him to pay Rs 30,000 as a bond in case he was not involved in any other crimes. However, immediately after his release, the Jammu and Kashmir Government booked him under the Public Safety Act after it said that his name appeared in a different FIR that included sections 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), 149 ( every member of unlawful assembly guilty of the offense committed in prosecution of common object) and 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code.

The dossier ordering a PSA to Gul says that he is “well qualified” and can “brainwash people”.

“Besides, it is easy for you to manipulate people of the valley towards your ill intentions as you are well qualified and can brainwash people easily against government established by law,” reads the dossier by DM Bandipora Sheikh Owais Ahmad.

Calling him a “Messiah of terrorists”, the dossiers even goes on against the potential decision of the court saying “You are presently under police remand and there is every apprehension that you may get bailed out from the Hon’ble Court of law thus will prove fatal for a peaceful atmosphere, tranquility, law, and order of the nation, as your release at this stage will be a threat not only for Bandipora area but for the whole valley”.

An Epitome Of Independent Journalism In Valley

His employer Fahad Shah, the founding editor of The Kashmir Walla, one of the few standing independent media houses, which works on crowdfunding in the valley too has been booked under PSA. Fahad earlier was repeatedly summoned for questioning for his stories, more so after he did a video story on the Nawakadal encounter where 12 homes were burned and residents alleged forces of looting from houses.

The basis for his arrest was a news report he did on an encounter in Pulwama and he was arrested on February 5 for the same. He was charged with the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and sedition (Section 124A of the IPC), and incitement to offence (Section 505 of the IPC).

On February 26, 2022, a Special NIA court granted him interim bail but he was kept in Shopian Police’s custody under a different FIR for a news report on the “Army forcing students of a religious seminary in Shopian to celebrate Republic Day”.

Previous Cases

Gul, Shah and Sultan aren’t the only victims of state repression of media. Earlier, journalists like Shahid Tantray who works for Caravan magazine flagged harassment by police after he did a story on Army’s role in manufacturing pro-India political voices in valley.

Qazi Shibli, another journalist and editor of the digital newspaper The Kashmiriyat, was also slapped with a PSA and returned home after a nine month incarceration at an Uttar Pradesh prison. He was slapped with this Act after he did a story and tweeted on additional troop amassing in the valley. He was summoned to the police station on July 27, 2019, and later arrested. Shibli was let go in April 2020, when Indian government decided to decongest jails in view of Covid-19.

Booked under UAPA by NIA, another photojournalist Kamran Yousuf was charged with sedition and criminal conspiracy and kept in Tihar jail for six months. He was however later acquitted of these charges by the NIA court itself. Masarat Zahra and Gowhar Geelani, both journalists, have also faced charges under UAPA.