SRINAGAR: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a global body for press freedom, has launched an online petition for the immediate release of incarcerated Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan.
Aasif Sultan is imprisoned in Central Jail Srinagar since August 2018 despite repeated calls for his release from human rights groups, international journalist bodies, and Kashmiri journalists.
Police booked him under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for his involvement in militant activities, a charge denied by his family. Asif has a wife and a two-year-old daughter at home. She was barely 6 months when her father was arrested.
“In the midst of the #COVID19 pandemic, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Indian government to release Aasif Sultan and Qazi Shibli. Sign this petition as we ask authorities across the world to free journalists immediately: https://twitter.com/CPJAsia/status/1245643605340905472,” the CPJ tweeted from its official handle on Thursday.
“The World Health Organisation states that people deprived of their liberty, and those living or working in enclosed environments in their close proximity are likely to be more vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease than the general population,” the petition reads.
Muhammad Sultan, the father of Aasif, told Kashmir Reader that the case is in court but his son should be released immediately in view of the risk of prisoners contracting the coronavirus.
In more than two years, he said, of four witnesses only two had given their statement in court. For the past three months, one of the witnesses is being called for recording his statement but has not yet turned up, Mohammad Sultan said.
“Given how the case is going on, we want the government to release Aasif for his safety,” Mohammad Sultan said.
Earlier, CPJ’s Asian Program Coordinator Steven Butler had said that “Sultan, a journalist with the Kashmir Narrator, has been falsely accused under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. His name was included in a First Information Report filed after a gunfight in Batamaloo on August 12, and he has been accused of having contact with and promoting militancy. His editor and family have credibly disputed these claims and say his work was strictly that of a journalist gathering news.”
Butler mentioned that police had seized Aasif’s laptop and phone and claimed to have found “incriminating material” at Sultan’s home which established his complicity in “harbouring known terrorists”. Police also accused him of “glorifying” militancy through his news reports.