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Kashmiri journalist Asif Sultan released after 5 years of illegal detention only to be re-arrested again

A Kashmiri Journalist Asif Sultan was released on 29th February from a district jail in Uttar Pradesh, after spending more than five years in detention. 

Around 78 days after the Jammu and Kashmir High Court quashed the detention order under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA), the journalist had finally walked out of the jail. 

However, soon after he walked home, he was re-arrested within four hours of his release. According to his family, after he returned to Srinagar, Asif was called to the police station in the Rainawari area of Srinagar and subsequently detained again in connection with an Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) case.

Asif was released after more than five years of illegal incarceration, first booked in a case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and then under the PSA. 

According to a Newslaundry report, the court quashed the journalist’s detention on December 11 last year, stating that the detaining authorities “did not follow the procedural requirements in letter and spirit”. But he continued to be detained in jail arbitrarily for 78 days despite having his detention order quashed. When he was finally released and he walked home, the release too lasted for a few hours only.

Case Background

Sultan was accused of “harboring and supporting known pro-freedom fighters” while working as an assistant editor for a Srinagar-based English magazine Kashmir Narrator, a baseless allegation which he rejects. 

On April 5, 2022, a special court of the National Investigation Agency, which oversees terror-related cases, granted Sultan bail in that case, stating outright that the state had miserably failed to provide evidence linking him to any militant organization. However, the state authorities kept Sultan in detention at the Police Station in Batamaloo area of Srinagar, and then re-arrested him under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA). PSA has been called a “lawless law” by Amnesty International, as it allows the state to arbitrarily detain any individual without having to provide any grounds of arrest, and keep them in detention for up to 2 years. The fact that the state had to take recourse to the PSA further evinces the baselessness of state’s “evidence” against him.

The family of Asif Sultan and the editor of the magazine he worked for, rejected the state’s narrative, asserting that he was jailed for his journalistic work, especially for a story titled The Rise of Burhan, which he wrote for his magazine in July 2018. The story mapped the life story of a popular pro-freedom commander, who was killed by the Indian state in 2016.

The fact that Asif Sultan was arrested for his writings is not an unfounded claim. GV Sundeep Chakravarthi, who has served as the senior superintendent of police in Kashmir’s Kupwara district, was posted in Srinagar when the gunfight occurred. He was the investigating officer in Sultan’s case. Days after Sultan’s arrest, Chakravarthi, while speaking to an Indian news website, stated that the journalist was “writing against uniformed forces”. Thus, revealing the motivation behind his detention.

Asif, though a victim of injustice, was not intimidated by what happened to him. A photograph of him at the court complex about two years ago went viral, which showed him wearing a T-shirt with the message ‘Journalism is not a crime’. According to Asif, the police station house officer had slapped and abused him for wearing that T-shirt.

A Family Torn Apart

Sultan’s daughter, Areeba, was 6 months old when her father was arrested in August 2018. She is almost 6 years old now and had only seen her father handcuffed all these years – dressed as a prisoner. Her mother had to raise her alone and had to answer her difficult questions about the whereabouts of her father.

She had only met her father whilst he was in detention. She could only hug him when he was brought for court hearings. Otherwise, she used to see his face through the bars. She is still waiting to see him as a free man. 

International Recognition

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent non-profit, non-governmental organization based in New York, penned a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 27, 2020, exactly two years after Asif Sultan was illegally detained, demanding his immediate and unconditional release. The letter was signed by 397 journalists and members of civil society. 

Asif has won several awards for his work from various international journalist bodies. In 2019, he was awarded the annual John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award from the US’s National Press Club. At the awards ceremony in Washington DC, the National Press Club stated that the Press Freedom Award that year was going “to a journalist in Kashmir jailed for nearly a year for his reporting”. Therefore, the state’s narrative on Asif’s involvement in “terrorism” was globally rebuffed.

Asif’s case was also featured in TIME magazine’s May 2019 edition as one of the ten most urgent cases which posed a threat to freedom of journalism and press around the world.

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