Saturday, June 22, 2024

“New life,” says Kashmiri journalist released from jail after 14 months

After nine months in jail, Kashmiri photojournalist Mohd Manan Dar was allowed to meet his brother, Hanan Ahmad Dar, who was until then lodged in another ward of New Delhi’s Tihar jail. The brothers were arrested under terror charges in October 2021 in a militancy-related case probed by National Investigation Agency (NIA).

“That was one of the good memories,” Manan told Maktoob recounting 438 days as a prisoner. He also said the Pulitzer Prize for Kashmiri photojournalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo was one of the “biggest moments” in the dark times.

The 25-year-old was released on 3 January, while his brother Hanan still languishes in jail. They are charged under Sections 18, 18A, 18B, 20, 38, and 39 of the UAPA and sections 120B, 121A, 122, and 123 of the Indian Penal Code.

Manan, a resident of Batmaloo in Srinagar, was a freelance photojournalist and a contributor for The GuardianGetty Images and Pacific Press Agency.

Granting the bail, Additional Sessions Judge Shailender Malik said the allegation made by the NIA “does not appear to be cogent and true”. In the bail order, the court ruled that evidence against Manan is “not sufficient” to prove that he was part of the conspiracy.

“Mental torture”

Narrating his arrest, Manan said he was told that some senior officer wanted to meet him and he went to the police station and then he was shifted to Srinagar “cargo”, an infamous interrogation centre by Indian forces.

“No (physical) torture but mental torture,” Manan explained his ordeal. “They asked a single question continuously for a long time. You will feel that they are harassing you mentally. I told them I haven’t done anything wrong.”

He was handed to NIA along with 12 persons, including his brother, days after a string of targeted attacks against members of the minority community and migrant workers in Kashmir shocked the valley.

“Whether in Srinagar or Delhi, NIA also just asked if I had any links with any person (militants) and I told no,” he recalled.

Manan came to know about Hanan’s arrest very late, making him feel “worse than worst”.

“We are only two brothers. When I got arrested I thought my brother is still out and he will look after and take care of my parents. But when I saw him in JIC Srinagar (jail) I felt very depressed”.

The NIA had alleged Dar was conspiring, both “physically and in cyberspace”, for undertaking violent terrorist acts in Kashmir and across major cities in India.

The premier investigating agency also alleged that Dar was working as an overground worker of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and its off-shoot ‘The Resistance Front’, and “knowingly entered into a conspiracy with terrorist commanders based across the border as well as active terrorists in the valley” to “assist unrest”.

Manan tells the scanning while admitting to Tihar Jail was the worst point.

“I don’t want it to happen to any person in the world,” he said while explaining the stripping and frisking for security measures while entering the prison. He says it’s “very disgusting and very disrespectful”.

Manan said he was labelled a “terrorist” initially by jail mates but they shared their opinion when they got familiar with him.

“Reborn”

“I feel like I was born again, “Manan says with a sign of relief. “It was the best feeling to come home and meet my father and others”.

Manan’s family have sought help from the legal aid group, Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), for the bail of his brother.

APCR helped Manan by helping the family hire advocates Tara Narula, Tamanna Pankaj and Priya Vats to represent him before the Patiala House Court of Delhi and secured his bail.

Manan said he mostly focused on his studies during his time in jail and trained himself to improve his vocabulary. He looks forward to pursuing his career and has told the court that “he has been selected for Integrated Journalism and Mass Communication 2022 at Cluster University, Srinagar”.

“I thank my (media) fraternity for helping me through this rough patch of my life, also my lawyers who worked very hard. It’s a very hard journey,” Manan added.

Shaheen Abdulla
Shaheen Abdulla
Shaheen Abdulla, an award-winning journalist, is the Deputy Editor of Maktoob.
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