'Illegal' Arrest of Kashmiri Editor Part of Attempts to Muzzle Local Press

The action against Ghulam Jeelani Qadri in a 27-year-old case has come at the time when press freedom in the Valley is under a severe and sustained attack.

Srinagar: Senior Kashmiri journalist and editor, Ghulam Jeelani Qadri, was picked up from his residence by the police in a midnight raid on Monday. The 62-year-old, the publisher of local Urdu daily Afaaq, was later released on bail the next day following a court appearance.

His arrest was in relation to a case that was registered in 1992. “TADA court had issued a warrant against him but he didn’t cooperate,” Haseeb Mughal, the senior superintendent of police, Srinagar, told Greater Kashmir on Tuesday.

Ghulam Jeelani’s lawyers told the chief judicial magistrate (CJM) that the aim of his arrest was to harass. Since 1993, Ghulam Jeelani has been given passport clearance by the same police station twice, the lawyers argued before the court, questioning officials on how then had he been declared a “pro-claimed offender”. Ghulam Jeelani has also been a member of the Kashmir Press Accreditation Committee and Press Advisory Committee since 1993.

The CJM asked the police to explain their position after they failed to produce the case file before the court. “Why was not the warrants against Ghulam Jeelani Qadri executed all these years?” the CJM asked the police. The CJM also questioned the police on the “steps taken to produce the editor before the court, before declaring him an absconder.”

The nearly three-decades-old case involves eight journalists – three among them have since passed away. In the 90s, Ghulam Jeelani ran a now-defunct news agency called J&K News which allegedly distributed press releases issued by militants in 1992 at a time when the state had banned the circulation of newspapers in Kashmir.

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Although a warrant was issued against the accused in 1993, no arrests were made.

Ghulam Jeelani’s younger brother, Morifat Qadri told The Wire that the police had given him passport verification twice. How then, he questioned, could his brother have been “absconding” all these years. He said his brother has been attending the office regularly and was just a call away.

“It’s sheer harassment the way the police raided his residence at midnight. There was no basis for this illegal arrest. If he was absconding, they could have summoned him during the day itself,” said Morifat. “There is a pattern to this continued harassment of Kashmiri journalists. It won’t stop here,” he added.

Media fraternity condemns arrest

Ghulam Jeelani’s arrest drew sharp criticism from local journalists, the editors’ guild and journalist associations.

The Kashmir Editors Guild (KEG) termed the arrest shocking. “Qadri, like every member of the media in Kashmir, is a law-abiding citizen and could have personally appeared before the police station or the court had he been informed,” KEG spokesperson said in a statement.

“He has been a newspaper editor for last more than two decades, has contributed to the institution of media and has been in public life for three decades. How can a person be a proclaimed offender if he is available in his office in the heart of Srinagar for more than 15 hours daily?” the statement added.

The Kashmir Journalists Association (KJA) also termed his arrest in the decades-old case as an attack on press freedom in Jammu and Kashmir. “The arrest has come at a time when press freedom is under severe and sustained attack in the Valley,” KJA spokesperson said in a statement, adding that another Kashmiri journalist, Asif Sultan has been languishing in jail since 2018. “The fresh arrest of a senior journalist is aimed at intimidating journalist fraternity,” the statement added.

Another association of working journalists, Kashmir Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), while condemning the midnight arrest of the senior journalist and editor, said in a statement that the action was aimed at muzzling the local press.

“Qadri was attending office on a daily basis and there was absolutely no need for carrying out a midnight raid at his residence. The working journalists here are wondering about the timing of execution of the warrant which has been issued 26 years ago,” the spokesperson of KUWJ said in the statement, demanding a probe into his arrest.

Senior journalist Yusuf Jameel termed the arrest ‘shocking’.

Local daily Kashmir Observer, in an editorial titled ‘Arbitrary Arrest!’, pointed out that everything about the action was unusual. That the police chose to arrest the editor at midnight when a phone call would have been enough to summon him to the police station, the editorial noted, “says a lot about the fraught times we are living in”.

Also read: With a Crippled Local Media, Dangerous Times for Press Freedom in Kashmir

“In the past two years, press in Kashmir has come under a sustained assault. Senior editor Shujaat Bukhari was assassinated. Journalists have been jailed, advertisements to newspapers curtailed or in some cases stopped altogether and media coverage has come under the cross-hairs of the security agencies,” the editorial emphasised, adding that the media in Kashmir is “perennially caught between multiple narratives and it takes a tough balancing act to navigate them.”

“Now things are being made even tougher and deliberately so. The government can now afford to be arbitrary and willful in its actions and get away with them,” the editorial added.

“Mercifully, Qadri is out on bail now. But his arrest has sent a chilling message home. It has created an uncertain situation for the local media to operate in.”