Prominent personalities from across India have signed the letter
Srinagar: As Kashmir based journalist Aasif Sultan’s imprisonment marked two years today, The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) along with 397 writers, journalists, academics, press freedom advocates, and civil society members on Thursday wrote to Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, urging Sultan’s immediate release.
The letter comes in the wake of the recent deaths of journalists who contracted COVID in government custody around the world, and the spread of COVID among inmates in jails in Jammu and Kashmir, as the threat to ‘Sultan’s well-being is significant’.
Sultan, who covers politics and human rights for the Srinagar-based print magazine Kashmir Narrator, has been detained since August 27, 2018, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), for his alleged complicity in “harboring known militants.”
Sultan, who was bestowed with the annual John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award in 2019 by the National Press Club of America, who said that it was being given “to a journalist in Kashmir jailed for nearly a year for his reporting” who has “doggedly produced important accountability journalism despite harassment from powerful people,” – has been on a slow-paced trial ever since.
He has repeatedly been denied bail, reportedly interrogated by the police about his writing and sources, and has had his Batmaloo house raided.
Citing that events in Kashmir are of ‘public interest’, and covering them is a ‘public service and not a criminal act’ – the letter mentioned “interviewing alleged militants or having sources that are critical of the government is within the scope of a journalist’s job and does not implicate them in any crime.”
In July 2018, days after Sultan had written an article entitled, “The Rise of Burhan”, the editor of the Kashmir Narrator, Showkat A Motta, received an email signed off by the “Media cell/CID J&K”, which took note of Sultan’s article and a report by another journalist headlined “In the run-up to Bamdoora’s back alley”.
Both articles had been published by the Kashmir Narrator in the week leading up to the death anniversary of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani who was killed on July 8, 2016.
“Journalists should not face retaliation for their reporting. Press freedom is a vital tenet of democracy and a proud part of India’s history. We are asking you to recognize and uphold India’s commitment to press freedom under Article 19 of its constitution,” the letter said.
While working for the Kashmir Narrator, Sultan had reported on conflict, politics as well as the economy. Apart from his piece on Wani, Sultan has written on the first fidayeen attack in Srinagar in 1999, an army officer who died while saving journalists, and on the state of education in Kashmir University.
He had interviewed businessmen who plant trees and a veteran journalist who talked about how “activism kills journalism”.
These reports, his editor in an interview with Scroll.in said, “did not seem to make an impression on the police.”
In the past, The Kashmir Working Journalist Association (KWJA) and Kashmir Journalist Association (KJA) has also taken ‘a strong note and outraged’ over his arrest, followed by statements from media watchdogs such as the Committee for Protection of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists as well.
Towards the letter’s conclusion, the signatories called on the PM to ‘follow’ the Supreme Court’s guidance issued on March 23 to release prisoners on parole due to the COVID-19 pandemic and appealed for an ‘immediate and unconditional release’ of Aasif Sultan.
The signatories include: N Ram, Karan Thapar, Vinod Dua, Vinod K Jose, Naresh Fernandes, Abhinandan Sekhri, Amitav Ghosh, Mirza Waheed, Sanjoy Hazarika, Professor Partha Chatterjee, Professor Amit Bhadhuri, Professor Arun Kumar, Professor Nivedita Menon, Professor Susan Visvanathan, Professor Apoorvanand, Mani Shankar Aiyer, Harsh Mander, Cedric Prakash, Dr Ross Holder, Avinash Kumar, Mihir Zaveri, Salil Tripathi, Sevanti Ninan, Avinash Kumar, Sabina Inderjit, CK Nayak, Siddharth Kalhans, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Sanjay Kak, Ashvin Kumar, Anand Patwardhan, Nandita Das, Sashi Kumar, Nikhil Wagle, Krishna Prasad, P Sainath, Sagarika Ghose, Pamela Philipose, Gowhar Geelani, Laxmi Murthy, Geeta Seshu, Aakar Patel, Mukul Kesavan, Anuradha Bhasin, Dexter Filkins, Rachel Spence, Rana Ayyub, Professor Ashok Swain, Mohammed Hanif, WriterSamit Basu, Meena Kandasamy, Iftikhar Geelani, Muzamil Jaleel, Meenal Baghel, Mahtab Alam, Arfa Khanum, Sudeep Chakravarti, Abhishek Majumdar, Zafarul-Islam Khan, Shalini Gera, Raza Rumi, and Nandita Narain.
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