Friday, March 1, 2024

Weeks after PSA quashment, Kashmir journalist Sajad Gul remains in jail

Photo: Kamran Yousef/ Maktoob

Kashmiri journalist Sajad Gul’s Public Safety Act was quashed by the Jammu & Kashmir High Court on 19 November last year. But even after weeks have passed, Gul remains in jail in connection with a case over his social media post which led to his arrest in January 2022.

Over a month after the PSA quashment, Gul’s family is still waiting to see their son back at home. Sajjad Gul, 27, was booked under the controversial law on 16 January 2022, a day after he was granted bail by the local court in District Bandipora in another criminal case registered against him.

Gul was arrested by police on 06 January 2022, for posting a video clip on his social media handle about a protest at the home of a local militant, killed during an encounter between security forces & militants.

Sajad Gul’s Public Safety Act (PSA) came days after Fahad Shah, another Kashmiri journalist was granted bail by the Jammu & Kashmir Court in a case publishing a seditious article in his Magazine Kashmir Walla where Gul was working as a trainee reporter before his arrest.

The Public Safety Act, which has been declared a “draconian law” by Human Rights Watch and “Lawless law” by Amnesty International was brought into force in 1978 to stop timber smuggling and later on the same was used to suppress opponent political leaders.

The Act allows the authorities to book any individual without any trial for up to two years on grounds of national security and up to a year for the maintenance of public order.

While quashing the PSA order of Gul, the court observed that there was no specific allegation in the dossier against the detenu which shows that the activities of the detenu could be “Prejudicial to the security of the State”.

The court also observed that the Jammu & Kashmir authorities while passing the PSA dossier has “not applied its mind” 

Gul’s brother told Maktoob that on 20 November they received a release order from the High Court of J&K.

“We were quite happy that we could get our brother back home but our efforts are going in vain. We have sent the release order to all the concerned departments, but still, we have no leads as to why he is still in detention,” he said.

He said that his brother is languishing in Uttar Pradesh’s jail under PSA. “Now the J&K high court has quashed his PSA detention. If there are any other FIRs registered against him, authorities still have to send him to a nearby prison,” he added.

Sajad’s ailing mother Gulshana Banu said that for more than two years she has not been able to see her incarcerated son due to financial constraints at home.

“My son is innocent, he used to tell stories based on facts. I request the state administration and Government of India to facilitate the early release of our son,” the 50-year-old told Maktoob.

She said that throughout his detention, they faced many difficulties and could not  afford to reach there (UP) to her son.”I am suffering from heart and head pain, how can I reach this state from my state?” She questioned.

The Division Bench presided over by Chief Justice N Kotiswar Singh & Justice MA Choudhary observed that the detention order was based on “Vague grounds” non-sustainable in the eyes of the law and directed authorities to release the journalist if he is not required in any other case.

“The detaining authority, before passing the order, has not applied its mind to draw subjective satisfaction to order prevention detention of the detenu by curtailing his liberty which is a valuable and cherishable right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” the order read.

The court observed that Gul was not supplied with copies of three FIR reports registered against him, copies of the dossier, statements of witnesses in the cases and other documents.

The Bench ruled that grounds of detention don’t indicate that the Gul was involved in any Anti-National activity “It is nowhere started as to how the detent had disrupted the public order creating any alleged enmity since there is no specific instance in any of the allegations levelled against h to show that he had been working against the national interests.” 

The court found that the administration, without citing any instances in the PSA dossier, had allegedly termed Gul as a “Negative critic” & his tweets & news items provoked people against the government. The court observed that factual reporting can’t be held against the journalist who reports the issues.

On 01 December 2022, a single Bench of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court dismissed the Habeas Corpus petition filed by Gul.

While talking with Maktoob Media, Mumbai based Author and independent journalist, Frency Maneckhsa said that she is pleased that Gul’s detention has been quashed, and the court has highlighted the importance of journalism.

“It acknowledges that Gul was fulfilling his professional responsibilities by reporting on events in his region, including the actions of security forces. The court underscores the significance of accurate reporting and acknowledges that no false stories were disseminated,” Maneckhsa told Maktoob Media.

Maneckhsa said that it rightly states that simply expressing negative criticism should not be perceived as an act against the government. This reinforces the concern that journalists and human rights advocates in Kashmir are facing unwarranted scrutiny for their work.

Mubashir Naik is an independent journalist based in Kashmir.  He tweets at @sule_khaak

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