CPJ, 400 journalists and academics call for release of journalist Aasif Sultan

On 27 August, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international body for protection of journalists, has emailed Prime Minister Narendra Modi the letter demanding the release of Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan, who has been imprisoned for two years.

Sultan covers politics and human rights for the Kashmir Narrator, 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,” reads the letter was endorsed by nearly 400 writers, journalists, academics, press freedom advocates, and civil society members.

The signatories include former Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer, senior journalist and former Editor-in-Chief  of The Hindu N Ram, former EPW editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, founder of Asianet Sashi Kumar, writers Amitav Ghosh, Mirza Waheed and Meena Kandasamy, academics Partha Chatterjee, Prabhat Patnaik, Ismail Poonawala, Ram Puniyani, Jacob Copeman, Mukul Kesavan and Manisha Sethi, journalists Sagarika Ghose, P Sainath, Vinod K Jose, Vinod Dua, Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, Mihir Zaveri, Rana Ayyub, Iftikhar Gilani, Naresh Fernandes, Neha Dixit, Suchitra. M, Anuradha Bhasin Arfa Khanum Sherwani and CJ Werleman, former Chairman of Delhi Minority Commission and editor of The Milli Gazette Zafar ul Islam Khan, filimmakers Nandita Das, Anand Patwardhan, Sanjay Kak Fathima Nizaruddin and Flavia Agnes, human rights activists Harsh Mander and Apoorvanand, former Indian Diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service K. P. Fabian, bollywood actor Suhasini Mulay, film and television actor Ashwin Kumar and British-Egyptian actor Khalid Abdalla,

A copy was also sent to the Home Ministry and the officer of the Jammu & Kashmir Lt Governor.

Sultan’s trial, which began in June 2019, has been moving slowly and he has repeatedly been denied bail. Police have reportedly interrogated him about his writing and asked him to reveal his sources.

CPJ stated in letter that the 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” it urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

CPJ called on authorities 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.

“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,” the letter also said.

While reacting to the campaign launched by CPJ seeking release of Sultan, the Jammu and Kashmir Police on Friday said “Aasif Sultan not booked for his Journalism but in FIR No.173/2018 PS Batamaloo pertaining to hatching criminal conspiracy, harbouring & supporting terrorists who martyred a police constable on 12-08-2018 at #Batamaloo.”