New Delhi: The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the re-arrest of Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan, saying the draconian Public Security Act (PSA) is being misused to “harass and detain journalists”.
Sultan was detained for nearly four years under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, having been arrested in August 2018 when he was charged with ‘exploiting known activists’, conspiracy and for having assisted and participated in militant activities.
He was released on bail on April 5 by a special NIA court, which found the government was unable to provide sufficient evidence to prove his connection to a militant organization. However, the police arrested Sultan again a few days later on April 10, placing him in Kot Bhalwal prison in Jammu, this time under the PSA.
“Under the PSA, Sultan can be detained for up to two years without formal charges against him and without a trial. Detainees under the PSA do not have the right to apply for bail, or hire a lawyer to represent them,” the IFJ said in a statement.
The Corps of Journalists also recounted that Sultan is the third Kashmiri journalist to be arrested under the PSA in 2022. Fahad Shah, Editor-in-Chief of The Walla of Kashmirwas detained under the PSA on February 14. Journalist Sajad Gul was also detained under the same law on January 16, 2022. Also in Gul’s case, the administration invoked the PSA after he was released on bail in a separate case.
Prior to his arrest, Sultan worked for the magazine Kashmir narrator and had published an article titled “The Rise of Burhan”, describing the notorious militant commander whose 2016 death at the hands of Indian security forces sparked unrest in the Kashmir Valley.
Sultan received a Press Freedom Award from the American National Press Club in 2019. In 2020, his detention was listed by TIME magazine as one of the 10 most urgent cases of threats to press freedom. .
Geetartha Pathak, president of the IFJ’s Indian affiliate, the Union of Indian Journalists, expressed deep concern over Sultan’s re-arrest. “The IJU urges authorities not to use draconian laws like the PSA against journalists and to allow journalists to carry out their duties without interference,” Pathak said.
The IFJ said Sultan’s “prolonged detention and immediate re-arrest violate fundamental rights to freedom of press and expression enshrined in India’s constitution.” He said the new “completely arbitrary” charges under the PSA are a “blatant attempt to silence critical and independent reporting in Jammu and Kashmir”.
“The IFJ urges the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir to immediately release Aasif Sultan and ensure that journalists can work freely and independently, without fear of persecution,” it said in a statement.
On Monday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on J&K police to respect the court’s ruling, “which found no evidence to justify” Sultan’s detention in prison. Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia Program Coordinator in Washington, DC, said: “Sultan should be released immediately, having already spent more than three and a half years in prison without being convicted of any crime, and the authorities must stop to arm preventive detention and the fight against – anti-terrorism laws against journalists to muzzle their work.