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Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan spent more than 1,000 days in jail Freedom of the Press

Srinagar, Kashmir operated by India – This month, Aasif Sultan, a Kashmir-based journalist in India, spent 1,000 days in jail since his arrest in August 2018 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA, a strong anti-terrorism law.

Sultan, 34, who worked as an assistant to an editor for an English-language magazine from Srinagar, is accused of “keeping a notorious criminal”, which he denies. He has also been charged with murder, attempted murder and other offenses.

But the Sultan’s family and the editor of Kashmir Narrator, the magazine he was arrested for, have denied the allegations, saying he was arrested for writing journalism, mainly for an article in The Rise of Burhan, which he published in July 2018.

In a 4,000-word report on the assassination of a Kashmiri Burhan Wani terrorist leader in 2016 by Indian security forces, the Sultan wrote down why the 22-year-old rebel was “more dangerous” in India “than in his living room”.

The Sultan was seen picking up his relatives from a police car outside a court in Srinagar [File: Saqib Majeed/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]

The Himalayan region of Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, which control many predominantly Muslim areas but occupy all of them. Two nuclear powers have fought two major wars in the region.

Meanwhile, the revolt against Indian rule in Kashmir-controlled India began in the early 1990s, when thousands of Kashmir youths joined forces with the rebels, seeking independence from the government or alliance with Pakistan.

In his autobiography, the Sultan writes that after Wani’s assassination, “many young men are missing from the bush to follow the Burhan path.”

The assassination of Wani on July 8, 2016 brought headlines around the world and sparked anti-India protests across the region, in which about 100 people were killed while Indian police and soldiers took over the protests with guns and rifles.

In his speech, the Sultan was able to draw only a portrait of Wani, including interviews with so-called underground workers (OGW), a term used in the defense community to describe non-combatants, who are often armed.

Sultan’s wife, daughter and father at their home in Srinagar [File: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP]

“The interesting thing is that one of them [OWG members] he met her [Sultan] police south of Kashmir and the interview was facilitated by a police officer. He [the OWG member] he gave us everything. It was unique that didn’t show up anywhere, “Showkat Motta’s Kashmir Narrator editor told Al Jazeera.

“The case in question angered the police in Kashmir. Unfortunately, courageous and honest stories are rarely seen on television, which explains why the police did not act.”

Police added the name of the Sultan to the initial report (FIR) which reported on the terrorist attacks in the Srinagar area of ​​Batamaloo on August 12, 2018. One police officer was killed in the operation while three rebels managed to escape.

In the middle of the night after the Sultan’s house took place, police said they had found “false charges”. Her laptop and cell phone were confiscated as evidence.

“The paper, they [police] he says he found items from his home, his iPhone and MacBook. Police say they have been sent to Chandigarh to investigate. But two and a half years have passed but the legal report has not yet arrived. Why is that so? Motta asked.

The Sultan’s wife and daughter at their home in Srinagar in this photo of September 4, 2018 [File: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP]

Sultan Adil Abdullah Pandit’s lawyer said his client could not be found at the scene of the shooting, which was “confirmed by the protesters” and described the police’s case as “just false”.

“Then how can it be 302 [murder], 307 [attempt to murder] and 326 [voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons] Calling against my client? These three offenses will not happen to the Sultan, “Pandit told Al Jazeera.

Under the UAPA, Pandit said the Sultan was charged with “criminal detention” and conspiring with the government to provide assistance to terrorists.

“There is no evidence to prove that Aasif Sultan gave any assistance or assistance to the terrorists or that he was with any soldier,” Pandit added.

GV Sundeep Chakravarthi, currently the chief of police in Kupwara district, was stationed in Srinagar when the shooting took place. He was a Sultan’s investigator.

A few days after the Sultan’s arrest, Chakravarthi told India’s website that the journalist was “writing against the military”.

But the officer refused to talk to Al Jazeera about the matter.

Sajjad Shah, a recent police chief in Srinagar City (South), said he had nothing to say as the matter is in court.

“I have nothing,” Shah told Al Jazeera. “Whatever evidence there may be, it must have been submitted to the court.”

But the Sultan’s parents believe their son is in prison for an article he wrote on Wani’s main criminal gang.

“My son is not involved in crime. He is innocent and has been arrested for one reason, an article he wrote on Burhan Wani, “Mohammad Sultan’s father told Al Jazeera.

Motta said the arrest of the Sultan was “the only way to address the issue of the House of Representatives” in the disputed area.

In a statement on May 23, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), a non-profit organization from the United States dedicated to promoting freedom of the press and the protection of the press, demanded that Sultan be released from prison.

“Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan has been in jail for the past 1,000 days. He has been suspended several times. Aasif was arrested after publishing an article about warrior Burhan Wani in August 2018,” CPJ wrote on Twitter.

CPJ said the Sultan trial began in June 2019 and is “moving slowly”.

“CPJ along with 400 journalists and the general public have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for immediate release,” it wrote.

In 2019, the Sultan was awarded the annual John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award by the US National Press Club. Last year, he also featured in TIME magazine the “10 Most Dangerous” cases of threatening the rights of journalists around the world.

Sultan is not the only case in the Kashmir region controlled by India.

In 2017, Kamran Yusuf, a local journalist, was arrested by the National Investigating Agency (NIA) in India under the auspices of UAPA.

The NIA accused Yusuf of being a participant in the throwing of stones and forming small groups to do this to government officials in the area.

Yusuf spent more than six months in New Delhi prison before being released on bail in March 2018, apparently for lack of evidence.

As of August 2019, when India removed Kashmir’s Indian-dominated status and transformed it into a national one, many journalists were summoned by the police and the charges against them.

In some cases, Kashmiri journalists were asked to explain the source of their stories and to present their reports.

In an article published in October last year, Fahad Shah, editor of The Kashmir Walla, wrote that he and a friend had been arrested by police after pointing a gun at a highway and “treating him like a robber” for four years – questioning.

He told Al Jazeera that in the past two years, he had been called to the police station several times and had two charges against him after his media coverage “which the government did not like”.

“It is like a message to some journalists that if you do this or if you do something that the government does not like, you could be arrested once or twice and thrown in jail like Aasif,” Shah told Al Jazeera.

“Reporting has been violated and laws have been enacted in the region.”

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