Asif Sultan is still imprisoned in Central Jail Srinagar despite many court hearings
SRINAGAR: International award-winning incarcerated journalist Asif Sultan on Sunday completed 1,000 days in prison. In the almost three years that he has spent in prison, everything has changed at his home, but charges against him are yet to be dropped despite many court hearings.
Sultan was arrested in August 2018 after he did a report on Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Wani for a local magazine where he was working as an assistant editor. A year later he was awarded the John Aubuchon press freedom award. He is currently lodged at Central Jail Srinagar, despite repeated calls for his release from human rights groups, international journalist bodies, and Kashmir journalists.
Muhammad Sultan, the father of Asif, told Kashmir Reader, “I had to go through a major heart surgery at SKIMS this year. Alhamdulillah, I am better now. His daughter, who was just 6 months at the time of his arrest, has begun to feel her father’s absence now. We are eagerly waiting for his release.”
Police have booked Asif under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for his alleged involvement in militant activities, a charge denied by his family. Asif has a wife and a 3-year old daughter at home.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a global body for press freedom, launched an online petition for Asif’s release, and other detained journalists, last year. The CPJ has said that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it calls on governments to release all journalists from prisons. It said that imprisoned journalists have no control over their surroundings, cannot choose to isolate, and are often denied necessary medical care.
“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 then general population,” the petition reads.
Earlier, CPJ’s Asian Program Coordinator Steven Butler had said that “Sultan, a journalist with 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.”
At the time of his arrest, Police had seized Asif’s laptop and phone, claiming 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.
Many Kashmiri journalists have raised their voice in support of Asif’s release. “Our colleague and fellow journalist Asif Sultan has now spent 1,000 days in jail. Journalism is not a crime. He doesn’t deserve to be in jail. His family has gone through hell during these years. In solidarity with Asif and all our colleagues who are suffering because of their professional work. Journalism is not a crime,” wrote Muzamil Jaleel, senior journalist, on his Facebook account on Sunday.