Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan has been detained since August 2018, first under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and later under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, which allows for preventative detention for up to two years without trial. As of September 2022, he was being held in the Ambedkar Nagar Central Jail, in Uttar Pradesh.
In July 2018, Sultan, an assistant editor and reporter with the privately owned monthly magazine Kashmir Narrator, wrote a cover story about slain Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani, whose killing by Indian security forces sparked 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 his editor, Showkat Motta, police pressured Sultan to disclose his sources for the story.
In a statement filed on October 3, 2018, before a judge in Srinagar, the state accused Sultan of staying in contact with a militant group and promoting it on social media. Sultan’s editor and family disputed this claim and said that he was being targeted for his work as a journalist.
According to a court judgment on November 13, 2018, authorities also accused Sultan of aiding and being a member of the banned group Hizbul Mujahideen.
The hearings in the anti-terror case were repeatedly delayed, according to the journalist’s brother Omer Sultan, his editor Motta, and news reports. On August 28, 2020, in response to CPJ’s advertisement in The Washington Post demanding Sultan’s release, the Jammu and Kashmir police posted on Twitter that the journalist was not being held for his work but for “hatching a criminal conspiracy, harbouring and supporting terrorists who martyred a police constable.”
In February 2022, CPJ joined 57 press freedom organizations, human rights groups, and publications to call for the immediate release of Sultan and other detained Kashmiri journalists.
On April 5, 2022, a special court granted Sultan bail in the anti-terror case, claiming that the state failed to provide evidence linking him to any militant organization, according to various news reports and Sultan’s lawyer, Adil Pandit, who spoke with CPJ by phone.
Authorities held Sultan, who was in the process of posting bail, at a police station in Batamaloo, Srinagar, for five days before rearresting him under the Public Safety Act and transferring him to Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal Jail, according to those sources. In May 2022, authorities moved Sultan to Ambedkar Nagar Central Jail in Agra, where he remained detained as of September 2022, news reports and his brother Omer Sultan said.
The government’s Public Safety Act dossier, reviewed by CPJ, accused Sultan of working for militant organizations and “advocating the idea of separatism through articles,” specifically citing Sultan’s cover story.
Omer Sultan told CPJ in September 2022 that since the journalist’s rearrest, his family had not been able to meet him due to the distance between the family’s home in Srinagar and Agra. Sultan calls his family once every two weeks to speak for two minutes with his father, his brother added.
Rohit Kansal, the Jammu and Kashmir government spokesperson, and Dilbag Singh, the director general of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, did not respond to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via messaging app.