'Misuse of PSA': Press Bodies Condemn Re-Arrest of Kashmiri Journalist Aasif Sultan

The International Federation of Journalists said Sultan's prolonged detainment and immediate rearrest violates the fundamental rights to freedoms of press and expression enshrined in the Indian constitution.

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New Delhi: The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the re-arrest of Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan, saying the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) is being misused to “harass and detain journalists”.

Sultan was held for nearly four years under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, after he was arrested in August 2018 when he was accused of ‘harnessing known militants’, criminal conspiracy, and aiding and participating in militant activities.

He was granted bail on April 5 by a special NIA court, which found that the government was not able to provide sufficient evidence to prove his linkage to any militant organisation. However, police rearrested Sultan only days later on April 10, placing him in Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal jail, this time under the PSA.

“Under the PSA, Sultan can be held for up to two years without a formal charge against him and without trial. Detainees under the PSA do not have the right to move a bail application, nor hire any lawyer to represent them,” the IFJ said in a statement.

The journalists’ body also recounted that Sultan is the third Kashmiri journalist to be arrested under the PSA in 2022. Fahad Shah, editor of The Kashmir Walla, was detained under the PSA on February 14. Journalist Sajad Gul was also detained under the same Act on January 16, 2022. In Gul’s case too, the administration invoked the PSA after he was granted bail in a separate case.

Before his arrest, Sultan was working for the magazine Kashmir Narrator and had published an article titled ‘The Rise of Burhan’, profiling the notorious militant commander whose death in 2016 at the hands of Indian security forces created unrest in the Kashmir Valley.

Sultan received a Press Freedom Award from the American National Press Club in 2019. In 2020, his detention was listed by TIME magazine as being among the 10 ‘Most Urgent’ cases of threats to press freedom.

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Geetartha Pathak, president of the IFJ’s Indian affiliate, the Indian Journalists Union, expressed grave concern at the re-arrest of Sultan. “The IJU urges the authorities not to use draconian laws like the PSA against journalists and allow journalists to perform their duties without any interference,” Pathak said.

The IFJ said Sultan’s “prolonged detainment and immediate rearrest violates the fundamental rights to freedoms of press and expression enshrined in the Indian constitution”. It said that the “completely arbitrary” and new charges under the PSA are a “blatant attempt to silence critical and independent reportage in Jammu and Kashmir”.

“The IFJ urges the Jammu and Kashmir authorities to immediately release Aasif Sultan and ensure that journalists can work freely and independently, without fear of persecution,” it said in a statement.

On Monday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) asked the J&K police to respect the decision of the judiciary, “which has found no evidence to justify” holding Sultan in jail. Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C, said, “Sultan should be released at once, having already spent over three and a half years in jail without being convicted of any crime, and authorities must cease weaponizing preventative detention and anti-terror laws against journalists to muzzle their work.”