Jammu and Kashmir police formally arrested Aasif Sultan on August 31, 2018. He was denied bail by a lower court in Srinagar in November. In February 2019, police filed a charge sheet accusing him of harboring militants. He has been detained at the Srinagar Central Jail as his case proceeds through the courts.
Sultan, a journalist with the monthly magazine Kashmir Narrator, is being tried for “complicity” in “harboring known terrorists” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in Srinagar, according to according to Indian news website Scroll. Police detained Sultan during a raid on his home in Srinagar on the night of August 27, 2018. Jammu and Kashmir police formally arrested him on August 31, according to a police statement seen by CPJ. The charges stem from his name being added to a First Information Report–the primary step in an Indian police investigation–filed in response to a gunfight in the Batamaloo region of Kashmir on August 12.
Sultan’s editor, Showkat Motta, told CPJ that he has been repeatedly denied bail, even though Jammu and Kashmir amended its plea to drop the most serious charges, such as a conspiracy against the state and planning a terror attack.
Police seized four cell phones, Sultan’s laptop, books, and journals during the raid that resulted in his arrest, according to Scroll.
According to a statement filed on October 3, 2018, before a judge in Srinagar, the state accused Sultan of being in touch with a militant group and promoting it on social media. Motta and Sultan’s family disputed this claim and said that Sultan was being targeted for his work as a journalist.
In July 2018, Sultan wrote a cover story for the Kashmir Narrator on the slain Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani, whose killing by Indian security forces set off a wave of anti-government demonstrations in Kashmir in July 2016. Sultan’s story included interviews with non-combatant members of Wani’s militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen, and according to Motta, police pressured Sultan to disclose his sources for the story.
According to a judgment given by the local court when rejecting his bail on November 13, 2018, which CPJ reviewed, Sultan was accused of aiding as well as being a member of Hizbul Mujahideen, which has been banned.
According to Scroll, police have subjected Sultan to repeated interrogation during his detention, including questions about why he reported on the conflict in Kashmir, why he had not reported on development in the state, and questions about headlines that had appeared in the Kashmir Narrator.
As of late 2019, Sultan was being held in the Srinagar Central Jail, according to his editor.
According to Showkat Motta, hearings in Sultan’s case have been repeatedly delayed. In January 2019, the judge went on a holiday for nearly a month; on February 5, the public prosecutor was absent when a hearing in Sultan’s case came up; in early May, there was a riot inside the Srinagar Central Jail, so he was not brought to court, Motta said. On June 2, Kashmir Observer reported that police officers related to Sultan’s case did not turn up for a hearing.
In July, hearings were further delayed after the Indian government decided to replace public prosecutors throughout the state, Motta said.
On August 31, CPJ’s India representative met Sultan’s father Muhammad Sultan Sayed at their home in Srinagar. Muhammad Sultan said his son had not attended a court hearing since August 5, when the Indian government announced a lockdown in Kashmir.
According to Motta, the prosecution’s case against Aasif Sultan hangs on two basic points. First, the police claim that they have found militant group Hizbul Mujahideen’s letterhead in his possession. Second, police cite a statement by a woman who was arrested in another case claiming that Sultan had links to Hizbul Mujahideen.
Sultan’s health had improved by September 2019, after initial complaints about stomach pain related to the jail food, according to his father.
CPJ messaged Jammu and Kashmir government spokesperson Rohit Kansal on WhatsApp for comment on Sultan’s case, but did not receive a response. CPJ also sent questions to Director General of Police Dilbag Singh via WhatsApp but did not receive a response.