An assistant editor at the Kashmir Narrator monthly, Aasif Sultan is accused of “harbouring terrorists” and “hatching a criminal conspiracy” in connection with the fatal shooting of a policeman in August, according to the indictment unveiled in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-held Kashmir, on 7 February. His next hearing is due tomorrow.
“We call on the Indian justice system to act responsibly by releasing Aasif Sultan at once,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “At no point since the start of this case have the police produced any evidence to support their claims. Detaining a journalist provisionally for nearly six months constitutes a clear attempt to intimidate all journalists covering subjects that displease the security forces.”
When RSF spoke to Sultan’s editor, Showkat A. Motta, ten days after his arrest, Motta said Sultan had been “framed” because of the profile of Buhran Wani, the commander of the Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, that he wrote in July to mark the second anniversary of his death. Wani was killed by the security forces on 8 July 2016.
Wani’s death helped fuel a resurgence in the conflict in Kashmir, which has in turn been reflected in an increase in harassment of journalists by the security forces. Four journalists were injured when police fired shotgun pellets at them last month, while other journalists were prevented from covering an event in Srinagar to mark Republic Day.
Sultan’s case recalls that of Kamran Yousuf, a Kashmiri photojournalist who was held for six months on completely spurious charges following his arrest in September 2017.
India is ranked 138th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.