Kashmir Journalists Face Prohibited Pattern: Arrest, Bail, Rearrest

After being detained for nearly four years awaiting trial for aiding activists, Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan was released on bail by...


After being detained for nearly four years awaiting trial for aiding activists, Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan was released on bail by the courts last week, and he believed he could finally return home to his wife and daughter, who was just 6 months old when he was arrested.

But Indian authorities did not let him go, levying similar charges under a different law, and have since transferred him to another prison.

Mr Sultan’s case is the latest case, according to human rights activists, in which the Indian authorities have armed the judicial system to limit freedom of expression and harass journalists, especially those from the party under Indian control of the disputed region of Kashmir. Some have been arrested under laws that allow people to be held for long periods without trial and make bail conditions extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Mr Sultan is currently being held under Jammu and Kashmir’s strict Public Security Act, a preventive detention law that allows authorities in the region to keep a suspect in jail for up to two years – without that no formal criminal charges are filed, and therefore no trial and no hope of bail — if the local authorities maintain that the person presents a security risk or a threat to public order.

Activists say the law violates international human rights and lawyers say Indian authorities have used it to round up Kashmiri who pose no threat of violence, including journalists, students and people with considerable political or economic influence In the region.

“The public security law is based on the fear that you might have done something illegal and not that you might have done something illegal,” said Shafqat Nazir, a lawyer who practices at the High Court of Srinagar, the largest city in Kashmir. “Just on the basis of an apprehension, one can rot in prison for two years.”

Mr Sultan’s experience – prolonged detention either immediately after a court granted bail or just before a bail hearing – has become a pattern, applied against at least two other Kashmiri journalists arrested these days. last months.

Fahad Shah, editor of a news site called The Kashmir Walla, was the first arrested in February. He has been arrested three times since then, with authorities bringing new charges as soon as he was released on bail in previous ones.

And Sajad Gul, a trainee journalist for The Kashmir Walla, was arrested on January 5 for uploading a video he recorded of a slain activist’s family in which they displayed anti-Indian slogans, police said, according to local media. He was released on bail 10 days later. But before his release, the authorities informed him that he would continue to be detained under the Public Security Law.

Activists cite the government’s motives for detaining Mr Shah, who has reported extensively on Kashmir for international publications, as evidence of the laxity with which the Indian government interprets the Public Security Act to silence journalists.

Mr Shah has been described by police as an “anti-national element under the guise of journalism” who “continuously spreads stories that run counter to the interest and security of the nation”.

Yashraj Sharma, who has run The Kashmir Walla since Mr Shah’s detention, said the government’s practice of arrests and then re-arrests sent a chilling message to journalists.

“Every time we hit the publish button, we don’t know if that particular story will land us in jail the next day,” Mr Sharma said. “Regional media have been crushed.”

The New York Times has sent several requests for comment on how the Public Security Act is being used in the region, to the Indian Home Ministry, the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, the police and the offices of two district magistrates.

A district magistrate, in Bandipora, responded but did not release details of Mr Gul’s case, citing confidentiality concerns. He said, without providing evidence, that the Public Safety Act was not “used to silence the media or critics” and that there were “so many journalists working freely in our district”.

Across India, activists, writersStudents, academics and journalists have complained of an increased climate of intimidation as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, in power since 2014, seeks to stifle its critics.

Sedition chargesunder a law dating from British colonial times, have increased in recent years. Thousands of people, including poets, political organizers and a Catholic priest, have been jailed under an anti-terrorism law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. This law, the one under which Mr Sultan was originally detained, requires that a trial must eventually be held and allows bail, although it may take years before it is granted.

But in Kashmir, it’s the Public Safety Law which is used more often to silence dissidents, including minorsin part, critics of the law say, because it invests so much authority in the region’s government and is subject to so little judicial oversight.

Journalists in Kashmir have long found themselves in a precarious position, caught between violent independence-seeking activists and the Indian government, which has tried to keep the predominantly Muslim region in tight grip.

But rights campaigners say the crackdown on Kashmir’s media has intensified since 2019, when Mr Modi’s government revoked the special status of the state, which had given it a certain autonomyand dissolves its elected government, placing the region under the direct control of the federal government.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has repeatedly called immediate and unconditional release by Mr. Sultan.

A retired police officer defended the use of the Public Safety Act.

“It is not fair to say that the law is arbitrary,” said Shesh Paul Vaid, Jammu and Kashmir’s police chief from 2016 to 2018. “Hundreds of journalists are working on it. If these three were slapped by PSA, it means that the authorities must have information on how they could pose a threat to the security of the country or to public order.

Mr Vaid added that an advisory committee, headed by a retired judge, must assess the government’s case for detention within three months.

The highest court in Jammu and Kashmir and the Supreme Court of India can overturn detentions under the law. “In many cases, PSA’s detention has been overturned by higher courts,” Mr Vaid said.

Mr Sultan, who has been a journalist for more than a decade, was arrested in 2018 and charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act after writing an article about Burhan Wani, a senior commander of the banned Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, who was killed by Indian security forces in 2016. His death was followed by protests and clashesamong the worst in the restless region for years.

Authorities have accused Sultan of harboring militants and helping the Hizbul Mujahideen, which the government considers a terrorist organization, to carry out militant activities, according to his lawyer, Adil Abdullah Pandit. But Mr. Pandit convinced a special court that the government’s evidence was weak, and Mr. Sultan, who denied the government’s charges, was released on bail.

Local authorities then immediately pleaded for his detention under the Public Security Act. Police claimed he “plans to engage in illegal/anti-national activities again” and said his detention was justified “to prevent society from violence, strikes, economic adversity and social indiscipline”.

On Monday morning, when it was confirmed that Mr Sultan was still not coming home, his father, Muhammad, and his daughter, Areeba Aasif, now 4, were waiting outside the police station where he was. detained. The eldest, Mr Sultan, said he saw his son, but was not allowed to speak to him.

“My wife doesn’t cry anymore. She was crying a lot,” said the eldest, Mr Sultan. “She was looking forward to the return of her son. We all were.

Mujib Mashal contributed report.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Kashmir Journalists Face Prohibited Pattern: Arrest, Bail, Rearrest
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