“Detained on spurious grounds”: RSF calls for release of journalist Sajad Gul

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of a reporter for The Kashmir Walla who has been detained in a completely “arbitrary” manner for the past six days in Kashmir and is facing the possibility of more than six years in prison for nothing more than a tweet.

Sajad Ahmad Dar, who writes under the by-line of Sajad Gul, was arrested by Indian army personnel on the night of 5 January and was taken to police station in Sumbal, a town 20 km north of the region’s capital, Srinagar.

On 8 January, he was charged with criminal conspiracy, assertions prejudicial to national-integration and statements conducing to public mischief under sections 120B, 153B and 505 of India’s penal code, which carry a possible combined sentence of six and a half years in prison.

By way of “conspiracy,” Gul simply posted a tweet on 3 January with a video showing sporadic protests against the death earlier that day of Salim Parray, a militant. RSF has learned that The Kashmir Walla’s lawyers filed a request this morning for Gul’s release on bail.

“We call on the judicial authorities in Sumbal to order the immediate release of Sajad Gul, whose only crime is to have tried to inform his fellow citizens about the realities of the situation in Indian Kashmir,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Detaining him on totally spurious grounds is typical of India’s policy towards Kashmiri journalists, which is to treat any reporting contrary to its short-term interests as ‘anti-national’ in nature.”

Vijay Kumar, Kashmir’s inspector general of police, issued a statement after Gul’s arrest in which he claimed that his video contained “anti-national slogans” and that he was “always in search of anti-government news.”

The Kashmir Walla editor Fahad Shah told RSF: “Sajad’s arrest is part of a procedure of stopping journalists from reporting incidents that the government sees as problematic. But if people are angry at the government that doesn’t mean the journalists are inciting them by reporting that anger.”

This is not the first time that Gul has been targeted by the Indian government, which has administered Jammu and Kashmir directly since its autonomy was rescinded in August 2019. He (and others) were charged with inciting a riot in February 2021 after reporting the demolition of homes and businesses in a district of Hajin, a town 40 km north of Srinagar that is regarded by the government forces as a hotbed of militancy.

India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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