New Delhi: Terming the arbitrary jailing of government critics as an “abuse of preventive law”, a Jammu and Kashmir high court bench headed by Chief Justice K. Kotiswar Singh has quashed the Public Safety Act (PSA) proceedings against Kashmiri journalist Sajad Gul.
Rapping the J&K administration for “not applying its mind” while approving the PSA proceedings against Gul, the court observed that there was “no specific allegation” in the PSA dossier to suggest that Gul’s activities were “prejudicial to the security of the state”.
The court directed the administration to release Gul “forthwith from preventive custody if not required in any other case.”
Gul was already in police custody for his alleged involvement in three FIRs filed by J&K Police when the District Magistrate of Bandipora approved his detention (No. 25/DMB/PSA of 2021-22) under the Public Safety Act on January 14, 2022.
Gul was consequently shifted to Central Jail, Jammu, some 350 km from his home.
While quashing the PSA proceedings on November 9, the bench observed that the “tendency…. to detain the critics of the policies or commissions/omissions of the government machinery, as in the case of the present detenu– a professional media person, … is an abuse of the preventive law.”
Under PSA, described by Amnesty International as a “lawless law”, a suspect can be detained without charges and put behind bars without trial for up to two years.
The bench ruled that the grounds of detention in Gul’s PSA dossier don’t indicate that he was involved in any wrongdoing. “It is nowhere stated as to how the detenu had disrupted the public order creating any alleged enmity, inasmuch as, there is no specific instance in any of the allegations levelled against him to show that he had been working against the national interests.”
While the administration, without citing any instances in the PSA dossier, had termed Gul as a “negative critic” who allegedly provoked people against the government policies through his tweets and news items, the bench observed that factual reporting by media can’t be held against the journalists who report on such issues.
Gul was working as a trainee reporter with the now defunct The Kashmir Walla when he was detained under PSA, “There is no specific instance (in the PSA dossier) as to which of the posts/write-ups (of Gul) are there as being so (create enmity against government) and on what date.”
Earlier, senior advocate Nazir Ahmad Ronga and Tuba Manzoor, counsels for Gul, told the court that he could not make a meaningful representation against his detention as he was not provided the PSA dossier, FIRs, statements of witnesses and other documents which the authorities “relied upon” to book him under the PSA “and, as such, (he) has been deprived of his constitutional and legal right.”
Citing a Supreme Court judgement, the court observed that the denial of documents to Gul and his continued detention “becomes illegal and detention order has to be quashed on that ground alone.”
“In absence of providing of the whole of the documentary record, the detenu cannot be said to be able to make an effective and meaningful representation against his detention which was his statutory as well as constitutional right,” the court ruled.
Earlier, a single bench of HC had dismissed a Habeas Corpus petition filed by Gul against his PSA detention order on December 1, 2022.
Gul has also been booked by J&K Police in FIR No 12/2021 filed by Hajin Police Station under Sections 147 (punishment for rioting), 336 (endangering human life), 447 (punishment for criminal trespassing), and 353 (assaulting public servant) in the aftermath of an anti-encroachment drive.
On February 9, 2019, Gul reported that a local tehsildar was “harassing and threatening” locals while conducting anti-encroachment drive. The next day, the tehsildar allegedly targeted Gul and his relatives’ houses in his native Shahgund village without serving any notice. This triggered protests and minor clashes between locals and officials in the area.
The Hajin Police Station had booked Gul in a second case (FIR No 79/2021) on October 16, 2021 under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 153-B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) and 505 (public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code following his report on the killing of a local militant in Bandipora’s Gund Jahangeer village
The police accused him of “spreading false and fake narrative” of the anti-insurgency operation. However, a court granted him bail in this case.
The third case (FIR No 02/2022) against Gul was filed under sections 147, 148 (armed with weapon that can cause death), 336 , 307 (attempt to murder) and 153-B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) of the IPC.
The case was filed after Gul posted a video clip on social media which showed some unidentified women shouting “anti-national slogans” at the house of Saleem Parrey, a top Lashkar-e-Taiba commander, in the aftermath of his killing in an encounter by security forces.
The quashing of the PSA proceedings against Gul came ahead of the high court’s decision to grant bail to The Kashmir Walla editor Fahad Shah who had been languishing in jail since February 2022.