Aasif Sultan, a Kashmiri journalist who has been incarcerated for the past five years, marked another solemn milestone on August 27, 2023, as he completed five years in detention.
A prominent figure associated with the monthly magazine Kashmir Narrator, Sultan was taken into custody by the Jammu and Kashmir police on August 27, 2018. He was subsequently charged with harboring militants under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and has been held at various jails throughout his legal proceedings.
Sultan’s imprisonment has sparked widespread international concern, with press organizations on a global scale consistently advocating for his immediate release.
His detention has been collectively characterized as a “targeted action” against him, drawing attention to the challenges journalists often face while performing their duties.
The journalist’s journey through the legal system has been marked by twists and turns. Initially arrested on charges of harbouring militants, Sultan was later slapped with additional accusations under the UAPA.
Despite amendments to the charges against him by Jammu and Kashmir authorities, including the dropping of serious allegations such as conspiracy against the state and planning a militant attack, Sultan’s pleas for bail have been consistently denied.
In October 2018, a statement presented before a judge in Srinagar alleged Sultan’s connections with a militant group and their promotion through social media.
However, Sultan and his family vehemently contested these allegations, asserting that he was being unfairly targeted due to his journalistic endeavors.
One of the pivotal moments in Sultan’s case came in July 2018 when he authored a cover story for Kashmir Narrator, focusing on the life of Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani.
The killing of Wani by armed forces in July 2016 had triggered a series of anti-government protests in the region. Sultan’s story included interviews with non-combatant members of Wani’s group, Hizbul Mujahideen, which further drew attention to his work.
Sultan’s brother, Motta Sultan, revealed that pressure was applied on Aasif Sultan to disclose his sources behind the story. Despite these challenges, the journalist remained steadfast in defending his journalistic integrity.
On April 5, 2022, a court in Srinagar granted Sultan bail in the UAPA case, raising hopes for his release. However, his freedom was short-lived as he was swiftly detained again for questioning by the Counter Intelligence Kashmir (CIK). Subsequently, he was once again placed under the stringent provisions of the Public Safety Act (PSA).
The course of his detention has seen Sultan transferred from one facility to another. Initially held at Srinagar Central Jail, he was later moved to Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu, only to be eventually relocated to Agra Central Jail in Uttar Pradesh.
As Sultan completes five years of confinement, international press organizations continue to raise their voices in support of his release, emphasizing the importance of a free press and the right of journalists to perform their vital role without fear of reprisal.