“The charges are very vague,” his editor, Showkat A. Motta, told RSF yesterday. “Every day we were told there was no serious evidence against him and that he would be released. We waited for five days after he was picked up before making the news of his arrest public. Within an hour of our issuing a statement, he was booked on a charge of harbouring a terrorist.”
Aasif Sultan, 31, was arrested on the night of 24 August when around 50 policemen descended on his home in Srinagar, the Kashmiri capital, searched it and then took him away to a police station. His editor said he has been subjected to a great deal of violence, including being hit in the face, in an attempt to get him to “explain his political ideology.”
“He was asked about his stories,” Motta said. “He was asked why he doesn’t write more positive stories or do developmental journalism.”
“Detaining a journalist without any serious evidence to support the charges against him is unacceptable,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We call on the Jammu and Kashmir authorities to order Aasif Sultan’s immediate release, to drop all charges and to take measures against the Srinagar police officers responsible for his arbitrary detention. Allowing journalists to express different viewpoints will help to defuse tension in the Kashmir Valley.”
At the start of July, Sultan wrote a story to mark the second anniversary of the death of Buhran Wani, the commander of the Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, killed by the security forces on 8 July 2016. His death set off renewed protests against the Indian presence in the Kashmir Valley. Those close to Sultan think this story was the real reason for his arrest.
“He has been framed,” Motta said.
RSF issued an Incident Report on freedom of the press in India at the start of July, two weeks after Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of the Rising Kashmir daily newspaper, was gunned down as he left his office in Srinagar.
It was exactly a year and a day ago today, on 5 September 2017, that Kamran Yousuf, a Kashmiri photojournalist recognized as such by his colleagues, was arrested and handed over to the National Investigation Agency, India’s counter-terrorism agency. He was freed on bail after six months but is still facing prosecution.
India is ranked 138th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.