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Family, Media Groups Demand Release of Journalist Sajad Gul Arrested in Kashmir

Before his arrest, Gul, 26, had indicated many times that he was facing a witch hunt from the authorities in his area and that he feared for his safety.
Kashmir

Image credit: The Kashmir Walla

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir police have arrested a budding journalist, Sajad Gul, accusing him of “spreading disinformation” and “provoking” people against the government, charges that his family and press groups have demanded be dropped immediately. 

In a fresh case, Gul, who is currently pursuing a journalism degree at the Central University of Kashmir, has been booked in an FIR no. 79/2021 under sections 120 B (Criminal Conspiracy),153 B (Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration), 505 (intent to incite) of the Indian Penal Code.

The journalist had posted a video on his social media handles following an encounter in Srinagar city outskirts last week in which a militant Saleem Parray was killed. The video purportedly showed locals in the Hajin area mourning the local militant’s death and raising anti-India slogans. 

While it is unclear whether Gul shot the video of protest himself, his brother Javed told NewsClick that Army soldiers visited their home last Wednesday looking for Gul, who, Javed said, was in Srinagar for university work. Over 30 km from the city Gul’s family lives in Hajin, formerly a bastion of state-backed militia called the Ikhwan known for inflicting terror on civilians. “We called him back home and then he was taken away at about 10 pm after Army from 13 RR called him outside,” Javed said. 

Kashmir

Sajad Gul's brother Zahoor ahamad and his Mother Gulshana near Gul's desk at their residence in Shahgund village of Hajin in North Kashmir's Bandipora district on January 9, 2022. Photo by Kamran Yousuf.

According to Javed, his brother was later shifted to the police station in Hajin during the night. The family had made several appeals to the police to release him but, to no avail. They are yet to approach a lawyer and are afraid about the safety and future of Gul. 

Gul’s father, whose father died when he was in school in 2008, is the only educated member of the family which includes his other four brothers and an old mother. “He is our only brother who is educated and the rest of us work as labourers which is also why we are unaware of what to do to get him released,” Javed added.  

Before his arrest, Gul, 26, had indicated many times that he was facing a witch hunt from the authorities in his area and that he feared for his safety. In many of his social media updates, Gul said he felt “helpless” due to continued harassment and intimidation by the Jammu and Kashmir Police. 

Kashmir

A picture of Sajad Gul taken during a reporting assignment is pinned on the wall of his room. Gul was arrested last week from his residence and has been in jail since. Photo by Kamran Yousuf.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the police said Gul propagated ‘anti-government’ information to “provoke the people against the government and the nation”.

“He also uploaded the objectionable videos with anti-national slogans raised by some women folk on the day when most wanted terrorist Saleem Parray was eliminated in Shalimar Srinagar,” a police spokesperson said. 

 The police have claimed that Gul’s activities are “prejudicial” to the sovereignty, integrity and unity of India. “Accordingly, a case has been registered against him in which he has been arrested and presently is on Police remand,” the statement read. 

This is the second case against Gul, who has been working for various local dailies for the past few years. Earlier, the authorities booked him for highlighting a protest carried out by locals of Shahgund against an encroachment drive carried out by the Revenue Department last year. The local administration accused him of instigating the locals against what they termed was a “lawful drive”. Gul has denied these charges and instead accused the local revenue and police officials of persecution to discourage him from reporting the ground situation. 

Journalist bodies, rights groups, and political parties claim that the authorities have launched a crackdown against journalists especially since the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A on August 5, 2019 to enforce a silence and thwart reportage critical of the government. The authorities have been successful to some extent as prominent local news dailies have limited their coverage to government programmes and functions. Reporters like Gul, who continue with their work, are targeted to be turned into an example through harassment, intimidation, summons while many have even been booked under terror laws. There have been incidents when homes of journalists have been raided and their electronic gadgets confiscated along with those of their family members. 

Gul is the second Kashmiri journalist who is in jail right now. An award-winning journalist Asif Sultan continues to remain incarcerated since 2018 after the authorities accused him of aiding militancy in the region, charges that many rights bodies have termed ‘flimsy’, and aim at silencing media in the restive territory of Jammu and Kashmir. 

Journalist bodies in Kashmir have said Gul’s arrest is part of the continued harassment and intimidation of journalists in the region. 

International press rights group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it is deeply disturbed by reports that a Kashmiri journalist was arrested days after posting a video of a protest on social media. “Authorities must immediately release Gul and drop their investigations related to his journalistic work,” CPJ said in a statement. 

There is, however, little hope left with Gul’s family, who seem aware about the difficult situation that journalists and critics face in Kashmir. “Justice,” they say, “is elusive especially for people with no means to fight back.”

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