The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has written to Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik to drop all legal proceedings against Kashmiri journalist Asif Sultan and release him. Sultan is undergoing detention since August 27. In the letter, the CPJ’s Asian Program Coordinator Steven Butler says that Sultan, “has been falsely accused under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act”. He adds that for a journalist ro interview or having sources who are critical of the government is within the scope of a journalists job and does not implicate them in a crime. “Reporting on an important and newsworthy story such as the conflict in Kashmir is a public service, not a criminal act, the letter reads.
When Sultan was arrested in August, the immediate trigger for the action was said to be the cover story on the slain militant commander Burhan Wani that he had written for his magazine a month earlier. Police had also confiscated Sultan’s laptop and phone claiming to have seized incriminating material which established his complicity in harbouring known terrorists. Police also accused him of glorifying militancy through his news reports.
But for the journalists in Valley, Sultans arrest is a part of the pattern. Over the past two years, Sultan is the third journalist who has been picked up by the law enforcement agencies for their work. Earlier, it were Kamran Yusuf and Auqib Javeed, a journalist with this paper, who were questioned by National Investigative Agency. The former was in jail for close to a year before being released on bail.
For some time, the local editors were also getting notices about the published content and were asked to explain it. In a sense, media is being victimized for just doing its job. In a conflict situation, the media has to give space to every party and also tell stories of the people. One party shouldn’t and can’t expect us to stop giving coverage to another. But the governments growing inability to appreciate the situation in which media operates has created an uncertain state of affairs among the journalists. The new approach towards media is of a piece with the centres policy of an iron-fisted approach towards Kashmiri leaders and the supporters of the ongoing separatist movement.
The intermittent arrests and questioning of the journalists in Kashmir has created scare among the media fraternity. Journalists worry that the Government wants to drastically circumscribe what should be reported and what should be left out. The continued detention of Sultan, in a sense, symbolizes this state of affairs. It is time that the government acts to change the situation for the better. Releasing Sultan will be one such act.
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