SocietyLaw & Policy ‘Bail Is The Exception And Jail Is The Rule’: 6 Kashmiri Journalists Targeted Under UAPA

‘Bail Is The Exception And Jail Is The Rule’: 6 Kashmiri Journalists Targeted Under UAPA

Here is a list of six young journalists who were targeted under the UAPA just for having an enthusiasm for journalism

Journalists in Kashmir have been consistently targeted by the government since Article 370 was revoked over five years ago; stifling press freedom, freedom of expression, and civil liberties in the region.

In a news briefing in 2022, Aakar Patel, chair of the board of Amnesty International India said, “For three years now, civil society and media in Jammu and Kashmir have been subjected to a vicious crackdown by the Indian government, which is determined to stifle dissent using draconian laws, policies and unlawful practices in their arsenal.”

Apart from shutting down major newspapers and publications like Kashmir Reader, the authorities are using the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to restrain the journalists in the valley from doing their duty. Sometimes under the garb of promoting ‘anti-national‘ sentiments and sometimes for ‘promoting secession‘ the journalists are rampantly targeted under this Act which was put into force in 2008 for curbing sedation and for blocking terror activities. The same law that is aimed to protect the nation’s sovereignty & integrity and is used commonly for arresting individuals with terror associations and links is used against the journalists in the Kashmir valley. 

The Anti-terror law can be used against anyone based on mere suspicion and the police can detain or arrest the individual without any trial or judicial procedure. Many journalists and human rights activists have till now been arrested under this Act. And those journalists are either still in jail grappling or out on bail after years of staying behind bars.

Here is a list of six young journalists who were targeted under the UAPA just for having an enthusiasm for journalism; owing to a lack of proof, the courts eventually cleared some of them.

1. Fahad Shah

In December 2023, Fahad Shah, a journalist based in Srinagar and the founder and editor of The Kashmir Wala, one of the leading and last remaining news portals in the region, returned home from jail after nearly 2 years. Shah was booked under stringent UAPA for publishing a news piece that “glorified violence” and had “anti-national” tones according to the authorities. 

Kashmiri journalists targeted under UAPA
Source: Al Jazeera

In a report in FII Fahad Shah, says, ‘My health condition suffered. But I am very much happy while being with my family members. The feeling is special as I missed it a lot in these two years.’

Shah returned home after the court decided that there was “not enough evidence” to try him for terrorism. 

Shah’s arrest and the ongoing attack on other journalists from the valley under UAPA and PSA have become a norm. Many activists and press freedom bodies have raised alarm at the arbitrary use of the power on Kashmiri journalists. 

2. Kamran Yusuf

Photojournalist Kamran Yusuf along with several others, including Asiya Andrabi, a separatist leader in Kashmir, were accused in a terror funding case by the National Investigation Agency. Yusuf was the first journalist who was booked by the NIA, an agency that only deals with counter-terrorism. 

Kashmiri journalists targeted under UAPA
Source: FKP

According to Amnesty International, “In January 2018, the NIA formally charged Kamran Yousuf, along with 11 others, with offences under the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), including ‘criminal conspiracy,’ ‘waging war against the government of India,’ committing ‘unlawful activities’ and being a ‘member of a terrorist organisation.’ The primary evidence put forward for these charges were that his mobile number was “persistently located at places where counter-terrorist operations were in progress” and that he was not a “real journalist” as he had not covered developmental activities carried out by the government.”

Kamran Yusuf is currently working as a freelance journalist and was granted bail by the NIA special court citing no credible evidence against him. 

3. Masrat Zahra

Masrat Zahra, one of the first women photojournalists from Kashmir was charged under UAPA by the state police in 2020. Zahra was booked under Section 13 of UAPA and Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code. 

Kashmiri journalists targeted under UAPA
Source: Wikipedia

The reports mention that Masrat was booked for uploading posts and photographs on social media with “anti-national” sentiments. The cyber police released a statement saying, “Cyber police received information through reliable sources that one Facebook user namely Masrat Zahra is uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquillity.”

The statement further stated, “The user is also uploading posts that tantamount to glorify the anti-national activities and dent the image of law enforcing agencies besides causing disaffection against the country.”

Zehra was the second journalist booked under UAPA after Asif Sultan. She is currently based in the USA and contributes to TRT, Al Jazeera, The Caravan, and The Washington Post from time to time. 

4. Asif Sultan 

Asif Sultan worked for the news portal The Kashmir Narrator when he was booked under UAPA  and sections of the Ranbir Penal Code which is the Indian Penal Code ( IPC) now. Sultan was arrested for “criminal conspiracy,” “harbouring militants” and “aiding and participating in militancy.” 

Kashmiri journalists targeted under UAPA
Source: Kashmir Life

Shortly after the National Investigation Agency court granted him bail,  he was booked again under the Public Safety Act (PSA) which doesn’t get bail for up to two years. It is reported that Sultan was booked shortly after he did a story titled “The Rise of Burhan Wani” on the slain militant Burhan Wani. 

Sultan has been in jail since 2018 and has received various awards while in jail. 

5. Irfan Mehraj

Freelance journalist Irfan Mehraj who has worked with The Indian Express, TRT, Al Jazeera, Two etc and also worked with a human rights organisation called Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS) was arrested in 2023 by the National Investigation Agency under the draconian UAPA and various provisions of Indian Penal Code. 

Kashmiri journalists targeted under UAPA
Source: Facebook/Irfan Mehraj

NIA in a statement said that Mehraj who was working with JKCCS at that time was funding terror activists. According to the NIA statement, Mehraj along with the human rights activist Khurram Parvez was propagating a “secessionist agenda in the valley under the garb of protection of human rights.”

Irfan Meharj has been in detention since last March. 

6. Manan Dar

In October 2021, Manan Dar, a budding photojournalist was arrested under the UAPA, by the NIA. Dar was arrested for showcasing images of “security forces,” “pickets,” and he was according to NIA, a “hybrid cadre meant to execute small scale attacks such as target killing of minorities, security forces, political leaders and other important persons to create unrest and spread terror.”

Kashmiri journalists targeted under UAPA
Source: The Wire

However, the Delhi court granted him bail in January 2023 stating the allegations were baseless. The judge presiding over the case, mentioned, “Mere assumptions or incomplete evidence to establish such facts may not be sufficient… Therefore taking into account all these evidence on face of it, it would be enough to observe for the purpose of bail application that such evidence do not connect or are not sufficient to indicate accused being part of conspiracy or other charges.”

Reportedly seven journalists in India have been incarcerated by the authorities in recent years and out of those, four Journalists are from the valley, namely Sajad Gul, Irfan Mehraj, Asif Sultan and Majid Hyderi. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, “India, which holds seven journalists, has used security laws including the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act to silence the media.”

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