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J&K High Court Orders Release of Kashmiri Journalist Asif Sultan, Jailed Since 2018

Anees Zargar |
Justice Vinod Chatterji Koul concluded that the procedural requirements were not followed and complied with by the authorities in letter and spirit while detaining Sultan.
press freedom

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court has ordered the release of Kashmiri journalist Asif Sultan, one of the many journalists from the region booked under the controversial Public Safety Act (PSA) in recent years.

Justice Vinod Chatterji Koul concluded that the procedural requirements were not followed and complied with by the authorities in letter and spirit while detaining Sultan.

"In the present case, the procedural requirements, as discussed above, have not been followed and complied with by the respondents in letter and spirit, and resultantly, the impugned detention needs to be quashed," the court said.  
It noted that the detention record does not indicate that copies of the First Information Report (FIR) or the statements recorded under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in connection with the investigation of the UAPA case were ever supplied to him.

The 36-year-old, who worked with a Srinagar-based news magazine -- Kashmir Narrator -- was first arrested in August 2018 and subsequently booked under stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The authorities accused the journalist of aiding militancy and publishing sympathetic reports, claims that his family and colleagues termed as baseless and vindictive. The magazine for which Sultan worked has since shut its operation.

In April 2022, the court granted bail to Sultan, but he was immediately booked under the PSA and continued to remain in jail.  

His arrest was widely condemned by the rights groups, media bodies and watchdogs who termed his arrest as arbitrary and vengeful against his mere reporting on insurgency in Kashmir. While Sultan was in jail, he was awarded the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award in 2019 by the National Press Club in the US.

"A lot has changed since he was arrested, and even when I know there is not much hope due to the mounting challenges faced by journalists here, it is a great relief that Asif will finally be able to return home," a Srinagar-based journalist said, wishing anonymity.

Media rights groups have warned that press freedom in Jammu and Kashmir has been shrinking to unprecedented levels, especially since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. Many journalists have claimed that they have faced threats and intimidation from the authorities.

Earlier last month, the court ordered the release of two other Kashmiri journalists, Sajad Gul and Fahad Shah, who spent nearly two years in jail. Shah, who had founded a news website around 2010, was released after the authorities banned his organisation.

In 2023, two Kashmiri journalists were arrested, including a TV commentator, Majid Hyderi, who regularly appeared on news channels. Hyderi was also slapped with PSA after he was arrested by the police on charges of "criminal conspiracy" and "extortion".

In March, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested 32-year-old Irfan Mehraj under "terrorism" charges in what many believe was part of an ongoing crackdown on journalists in the region.

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