Aasif Sultan's re-arrest highlights India’s systematic use of terrorism laws to persecute Kashmiri journalism

The almost immediate re-arrest of a reporter after five years in prison has highlighted India’s judicial persecution of independent journalism in the northern territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for his immediate and definitive release and the release of the four other Kashmiri journalists currently held under India’s terrorism laws.

A reporter for the Kashmir Narrator monthly, Aasif Sultan was freed on 28 February after being imprisoned for five years, and had just been reunited with his family in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir’s capital, when he was arrested again on 1 March. His prison ordeal since 2018 is a shocking example of how terrorism legislation is used to persecute the media in this northern territory, where four other reporters have been held on terrorism charges since 2022.

“Terrorism laws are being manipulated politically to stifle independent media voices and prevent reliable journalistic coverage in Kashmir. As general elections approach in India, we call for a drastic change in policy towards journalists in this region, which has become a black hole for news and information as a result of wholesale persecution over the years. These unacceptable abuses must stop.

Célia Mercier
Head of RSF's South Asia Desk

A Muslim-majority territory with a long-standing separatist insurrection, Kashmir is by far and away the India region where journalists are most persecuted. Respect for press freedom has declined dramatically in Kashmir since its semi-autonomous status under India’s 1950 constitution was repealed in August 2019 and it was placed under New Delhi’s direct control. In the past five years, the region has recorded 13 cases of detention of journalists, representing almost a quarter of all cases of imprisonment in the country during this period.

The four other Kashmiri journalists currently held under India’s terrorism laws are Sajad Gul of The Kashmir Walla, who has been jailed since January 2022; Abdul Aala Fazili of The Kashmir Walla, held since April 2022; Irfan Mehraj of Wande Magazine, held since March 2023; and freelancer Majid Hyderi, held since September 2023.

Judicial persecution

Sultan’s troubles began in 2018, when he published an article on the second anniversary of the death of Buhran Wani, a Kashmiri militant who was killed in a firefight with security forces. He has been subjected to unrelenting judicial persecution ever since.

He was arrested in August 2018 under the 1967 Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which, as amended in 2019, allows for any person suspected of “terrorism” to be detained preventively and makes it difficult for the accused to obtain bail. The police accused him of sheltering militants who had murdered a police officer. But no evidence linking him to a militant organisation was ever produced.

A special court released Sultan in April 2022 but the police immediately detained him again, this time under the pretext that he posed a “threat to peace” under the 1978 Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act – a regional law that allows for preventive detention for up to two years. He was then transferred to a prison in Uttar Pradesh state, some 1,500 km from his home.

A court in Srinagar quashed Sultan’s detention in December 2023 and he was released on 28 February. Only to be jailed again two days later. This time again under the UAPA law, and on the pretext of a riot that took place in Srinagar central prison in 2019, where he was being held at the time. Several UN special bodies, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, have ruled since 2020 that the UAPA is incompatible with international human rights law.

Radio silence in the region

Kashmir continues to be almost inaccessible to foreign media. During a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Srinagar on 7 March, 33 journalists with foreign media outlets were denied access to the territory. On 12 February, The Caravan, one of the last bastions of investigative journalism, was forced to take down an investigative report on the army’s torture of civilians in Jammu and Kashmir. Meanwhile, the number of deliberate Internet and communications shutdowns has tripled in the past five years in the region, from 122 from 2013 to 2018, to 308 from 2019 to 2024. 

India is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2023 World Press Freedom Index.

161/ 180
Score : 36.62
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