Aasif Sultan, a journalist with the Kashmir Narrator magazine, was booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) on Sunday, just days after he was granted bail in another case.
As per a statement issued by the Journalist Federation of Kashmir on Monday, Sultan has spent 1318 days in jail, including his time under trial.
Demanding his immediate release, the JFK wrote that the continued imprisonment of an award-winning journalist like Sultan under the PSA was “another blow to press freedom in Jammu and Kashmir where the situation for the media has become extremely difficult.”
Srinagar Police had arrested Sultan back in August 2018 for allegedly sheltering terrorists in violation of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. This came soon after he published an article about the leader of the armed Hizbul Mujahideen group, Burhan Wani, who was killed by Indian authorities in 2016 giving rise to anti-government protests in Kashmir.
After nearly four years, on April 5, a special court of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) granted bail to Sultan in the case noting that the state had failed to provide evidence linking him to any militant organisation.
However, Sultan was reportedly kept at the Batamaloo Police Station in Srinagar instead of being released. His counsel told Committee to Protect Journalists that he was re-arrested under the PSA and the authorities said they would move Sultan to Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal jail, about 200 miles from Srinagar.
“In Aasif’s case, justice remained elusive,” wrote the JFK. “Sultan’s detention under PSA violates his right to liberty and freedom of expression as a journalist. His arrest followed a string of summons, questioning and booking of journalists in Kashmir. Journalists in Kashmir have always worked under perilous conditions, holding up values of press freedom in the face of dangers to life and liberty,” the statement further added.
Pointing out that media watchdogs such as the UN, CPJ, RSF, HRW and IFJ have also, time and again, called out the “intimidation and harassment” faced by journalists, the JFK demanded the immediate release of the Sultan as well as other jailed journalists in the valley.
Sultan is now the third journalist in the Kashmir valley to have the PSA invoked against him, after Sajad Gul and Fahad Shah earlier this year.
Gul, a journalism student and trainee reporter at The Kashmir Walla, was booked under the PSA in January after he was granted bail in a separate criminal conspiracy case.
On the other hand, Shah, who is the editor and founder of The Kashmir Walla, was booked under the PSA a day before his bail hearing in another anti-terror case in March. Shah had previously been arrested multiple times, with new cases foisted upon him each time he was granted bail in a previous one.
The Public Safety Act, 1978, of Jammu Kashmir is an administrative detention law under which an individual can be detained for up to two years without any trial or charge. The Act also allows for the arrest of an individual without a warrant or specific charges and often for an unspecified period.