“The charges are very vague,” his editor, Showkat A. Motta, told RSF, pointing out that when he was arrested, he was asked about his stories. “He was asked why he didn’t write more positive stories or do developmental journalism.”
Motta is convinced that the real reason for his arrest was to “intimidate him and other journalists working in the [Kashmir] valley.” Shortly before his arrest, he wrote a story about Buhran Wani, a Kashmiri militant killed by the security forces in 2016 who had become a sources of inspiration for young activists. Friends and colleagues think it was this story that prompted his arrest.
Qazi Shibli, a journalist who was recently detained for the second time, met Sultan during the 17 days he spent in Srinagar’s main prison and said Sultan was having difficult enduring the separation from his family.
1.3 billion inhabitants but only one narrative tolerated
Shibli, who edits The Kashmiriyat news portal, said he and Sultan discussed the media situation: “With the escalation of attacks, arrests and intimidation of media personnel since 2014, when right-wing forces took the centre stage in Indian politics, the state is making enormous efforts to control and contain every narrative existing in a society as diverse as ours.”
Shibli added: “Aasif is apprehensive that many journalists in Kashmir are being targeted merely for challenging the state-hyped narrative on Kashmir.”
Sultan’s father, Mohammad Sultan, deplores the fact that because of the coronavirus pandemic, judicial proceedings have been held up and visiting his son in prison has been banned since February.
Because of the increased risk of catching Covid-19 in overcrowded prison conditions, many public figures, including Kashmir Press Club vice-president Moazum Mohammad, have stepped up calls for Sultan’s release.
As RSF stressed in a recent report, it has been almost impossible for journalists to operate in the Kashmir Valley for the past year because of draconian information controls, obstacles to the dissemination of articles and videos, intimidation by the security forces in the field, and every kind of judicial harassment.
“The way the Indian authorities repeatedly obstruct the freedom to inform in Kashmir is unworthy of a democracy,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “It is more than regrettable that this journalist, whose only crime was to do his job, has been detained for two years. We denounce the weakness of the charges brought against Aasif Sultan and, with the utmost firmness, we reiterate our call for his unconditional release.”
India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.