New Delhi, April 11, 2022 – Authorities in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir must immediately and unconditionally release Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan and cease detaining journalists for their work and subjecting them to legal harassment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On Sunday, April 10, authorities in Jammu and Kashmir re-arrested Sultan, a journalist with the monthly magazine Kashmir Narrator, under the 1978 Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act days after he was granted bail in a separate case, according to various news reports and Sultan’s lawyer, Adil Pandit, who spoke to CPJ by phone.
The Public Safety Act allows for suspects to be held for up to two years in preventative detention without trial, according to those sources. Pandit told CPJ that the grounds for Sultan’s detention under the Public Safety Act were unclear, and he was expecting a copy of the detention order from an executive district magistrate soon.
“We urge police in Jammu and Kashmir to respect the decision of the judiciary, which has found no evidence to justify holding journalist Aasif Sultan in jail,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Sultan should be released at once, having already spent over three and a half years in jail without being convicted of any crime, and authorities must cease weaponizing preventative detention and anti-terror laws against journalists to muzzle their work.”
Police arrested Sultan in August 2018 for allegedly harboring terrorists in violation of the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, shortly after he published an article about Burhan Wani, leader of the armed Hizbul Mujahideen group, who was killed by Indian authorities in 2016, sparking anti-government protests in Kashmir.
On April 5, 2022, a special court of the National Investigation Agency, which handles terror-related cases, granted Sultan bail in that case, claiming that the state had failed to provide evidence linking him to any militant organization, Pandit told CPJ.
However, authorities kept Sultan at the Batamaloo Police Station in Srinagar, and then re-arrested him under the Public Safety Act, Pandit said, adding that authorities said they would move the journalist to Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal jail, about 200 miles from Srinagar.
Sultan’s father, Mohammad Sultan, told CPJ by phone that, before he was re-arrested, authorities at the Batamaloo Police Station insisted that the journalist would be released soon.
In January, police similarly re-arrested Sajad Gul, a journalism student and trainee reporter at the online news portal The Kashmir Walla, under the Public Safety Act after he was granted bail in a separate criminal conspiracy case, according to news reports. On March 14, police re-arrested Fahad Shah, editor of The Kashmir Walla, also under that act, after he was granted bail in a number of separate criminal and anti-terror cases, according to a statement by his outlet.
In August 2020, CPJ joined nearly 400 journalists and civil society members in calling on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to release Sultan. In February 2022, CPJ joined 57 press freedom organizations, rights groups, and publications in calling on the lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir to release all arbitrarily detained journalists, including Shah, Gul, Sultan, and freelance photojournalist Manan Dar.
Dilbag Singh, the director-general of the Jammu and Kashmir police, did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app.