CPJ, RSF Urge GOI To Uphold Press Freedom in Kashmir

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Seek Immediate Release of Kashmiri Journalist Aasif Sultan

Srinagar: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CJP) along with nearly 400 journalists and civil society members have written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to uphold the country’s commitment to press freedom and release imprisoned Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan booked on alleged links to militancy.

In the letter, which has also been sent to Home Minister Amit Shah and Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, the ICJ and as many as 397 writers, journalists, academics, press freedom advocates, and civil society members have sought Sultan’s release, who completed two years in prison on Thursday.

The signatories write that Sultan and has been unjustly detained since August 27, 2018, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, for his alleged complicity in “harboring known terrorists.”

“But interviewing alleged militants or having sources who are critical of the government is within the scope of a journalist’s job and does not implicate them in any crime. Events in Kashmir are of public interest, and covering them is a public service, not a criminal act,” the signatories write.

The letter also mentions that Sultan’s trial has been moving slowly since June 2019 and he has repeatedly been denied bail. It also says that police have reportedly interrogated him about his writing and asked him to reveal his sources.

“Journalists should not face retaliation for their reporting. Press freedom is a vital tenet of democracy and a proud part of India’s history. We are asking you to recognize and uphold India’s commitment to press freedom under Article 19 of its constitution,” the letter reads.

It further adds that given the recent deaths of journalists who contracted COVID-19 in government custody around the world, and the spread of COVID-19 among inmates in jails in Jammu and Kashmir, the threat to Sultan’s well-being is significant.

“We call on you to follow the Supreme Court’s guidance issued on March 23 to release prisoners on parole due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and grant Aasif Sultan immediate and unconditional release,” the letter adds.

Meanwhile Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also reiterated on Thursday its call for the release of Kashmiri journalist who completes his second year in detention “without any serious evidence ever being produced to support the charges of “harbouring terrorists”.

RSF in a recent report, alleged that it has been almost impossible for journalists to operate in the Kashmir Valley for the past year because of draconian information controls, obstacles to the dissemination of articles and videos, intimidation by the security forces in the field, and every kind of judicial harassment.

“The way the Indian authorities repeatedly obstruct the freedom to inform in Kashmir is unworthy of a democracy,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries and territories in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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