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Aamir Ali Bhat

Another Kashmiri journalist jailed for reporting on militants

Aasif Sultan being taken to prison in handcuffs [Muzamil Mattoo]

Date of publication: 11 September, 2018

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Aasif Sultan has been detained since the end of August after writing a profile of an armed rebel commander, reports Aamir Ali Bhat.
When in 2011, Aasif Sultan completed his studies in journalism, he started working with local newspaper. After spending years as a reporter for a couple of organizations, Aasif became an assistant editor of Kashmir Narrator, a monthly magazine based in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, and was continuously writing stories for the magazine.

For the past two weeks, Aasif has behind bars. He is accused of "harbouring terrorists" while being in possession of "incriminating material" on his laptop - allegations Aasif's family and his editor, Showkat A Motta, strongly deny.

"The initial questioning of the accused, subsequent searches and disclosures made in the case so far have led to seizure of incriminating materials from various locations," the police said in a statement. "It also establishes his complicity for harbouring known terrorists involved in serious terror crimes."

On September 8, when Aasif was brought before a local court in Srinagar, his hands were chained. He was wearing a t-shirt saying: "Journalism is not a crime."

After the police presented the charge sheet, accusing Aasif of being "in contact" with a local armed rebel group named Hizbul Mujahideen and of "glorifying" fighters in his news reports, the court sentenced him to 15 further days' judicial remand in the city's Central Jail.

Countering the police charges, Aasif's editor told The New Arab: "All the allegations of the police are vague and trivial. We are going to challenge them in the court of law.

"Besides," added Motta, "we filed for Aasif's bail on Tuesday but didn't get any response. We were waiting in the court on Saturday since 10am, but the police brought him during the last 15 minutes [of the court's working day] and we didn't get time to respond the police charges."

In court, the police criticised Aasif's reporting. "In his reporting, he is glorifying terrorists and he would often give coverage to Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists, especially Burhan Wani, to attract youth towards terrorist organisations, especially Hizbul Mujahideen," read the police charge sheet.

On the second anniversary of the death of rebel commander Burhan Wani, killed in an encounter on July 8 2016, Kashmir Narrator published a profile of the militant, written by Aasif. Kashmir's journalism community believe this is the main reason he has been incarcerated.

Syed Muhammad Sultan, Aasif's father, says his son has been detained
merely for doing his job [Aamir Ali Bhat]

A statement from the Kashmir Narrator maintains Aasif was questioned by police over his coverage of Wani in the June issue of the magazine, as well as being interrogated over his ideology and other stories he had written.

Family statement

During the night of 27-28 August, when the Sultan family were sleeping, government forces raided their home in Srinagar's Batamaloo neighbourhood. After ransacking the family home for two hours, they took Aasif, along with his laptop, mobile phone and few notebooks.

"It was around midnight. I was about to sleep when I heard some strange noises outside. When I peeked through the window, around 50-60 forces were present outside our house. Some of them jumped over the outer wall and barged into our house," said 62-year-old Syed Mohammad Sultan, Aasif's father.



"They went to Aasif's room and searched it, as if they were searching some serious criminal's room. They later took Aasif with them."

The family say, Aasif was illegally detained from until August 31. They say police finally called Aasif's father on August 31 and asked him to sign release papers.

"After I signed the release order, police told me to come back on September 1," said Sultan, Aasif's father. "When I went to the police station next day, instead of releasing my son, police showed me FIR against Aasif and asked me to sign on it. I refused.

"Is practicing proper journalism a crime? My son was detained for his work. Writing a story on militant commander is not a crime."

Aasif is married and has a seven-month-old daughter. His detention came as a surprise to his family and left them all in shock. Sultan is concerned about the future of his son and is fighting tooth-and-nail for his release.

"He is passionate about journalism," said Sultan. "He used to do late-night work and spend most of his time reading and writing. His detention was a surprise."

Condemnations

Kashmir Working Journalist Association (KWJA), the Kashmir Journalist Association (KJA) and the Kashmir Editors' Guild (KEG) have all condemned Aasif's detention.

The KEG demanded the police make public all charges against Aasif.

Aasif Sultan's press card identifies him as a legitimate media worker [Aamir Ali Bhat]

"While the newspapers in the state have routinely started getting notices to explain things that have gone into print, there are very disturbing reports about reporters being asked to disclose sources of stories," an official statement released by the KEG said. "The KEG reiterates that freedom of speech can't be suspended even if the Assembly is suspended."



As the news reports about Aasif's detention begab to spread, international groups including the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the detention and demanded Aasif's immediate release.

"The International Federation of Journalists joins its affiliate, the Indian Journalist Union, in condemning the arrest and detention of Aasif Sultan and demands his immediate release," the IFJ statement reads.

The IFJ said the situation for journalists in Kashmir remains grim, with media on the brink, particularly following the June 14 assassination of Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of Rising Kashmir, outside his office by unidentified gunmen. 

Expressing outrage over the continuous detention of Aasif, KWJA, KJA and other journalist associations took to the streets of the city on Monday. Journalists said that  reporters' rights are being violated here in Kashmir.

The attacks on journalists in Kashmir have become more frequent. Earlier this year, Kamran Yousuf, a young photojournalist was held by the National Investigating Agency of India for six months and was subsequently released on bail in March 2018.

In June, Shujaat Bukhari was assassinated outside his Srinagar office, and in July the NIA summoned reporter Auqib Javeed to Delhi for questioning.

Kashmir continues to be one of the longest unresolved conflicts, with India and Pakistan, both nuclear states, claiming the region in full. Indian-administered Kashmir has seen particular death and destruction since the armed insurgency erupted against Indian rule in 1989.

India has in turn deployed hundreds of thousands of troops to put the rebellion down, making Kashmir one of the most militarized regions in the world.

In the past eight years, the region has seen renewed extensive and popular uprisings against Indian rule.

Aamir Ali Bhat is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist who reports on human rights abuses, culture and the environment. He writes for The New Arab, Kashmir Ink and Free Press Kashmir.

Follow him on Twitter: @Aamirbhatt3

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