Seven Journalists Still Languishing In Jails
Aasif Sultan, Siddique Kappan, Gautam Navlakha, Manan Dar, Sajad Gul, Fahad Shah, Rupesh Kumar Singh
The number of Journalists in India who have been incarcerated is at an all time high this year, stated the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). In India, seven journalists are in jail, a record high for the second consecutive year since CPJ began its prison census in 1992.
These seven journalists are: Aasif Sultan, Siddique Kappan, Gautam Navlakha, Manan Dar, Sajad Gul, Fahad Shah and Rupesh Kumar Singh. The report came out of the number of journalists across the world who have been put behind bars for practising their profession.
However, on Friday, Malayalam journalist Siddique Kappan, arrested on terror charges while on his way to Uttar Pradesh's Hathras to report on a Dalit woman's rape and murder two years ago, got bail in a money laundering case from the High Court.
He had already got bail in the terror case — filed under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and other related laws — from the Supreme Court in September, but remained in jail in Lucknow as he got no relief till now in a related filed by the Enforcement Directorate in 2021.
According to sources associated with Kappan's legal team, the Lucknow bench of the High Court granted him bail without any conditions but are still waiting for the order. They added that the court has asked for two sureties for Kappan to be eligible for bail.
Since it was the last working day for the court this year, the legal team member said that Kappan will be in custody until at least January 2, when the court will reopen, only then will they request the journalist's release.
Earlier this month, a court in Lucknow had framed charges against him and six others under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), which meant the trial could finally begin. The other accused are: K. A. Rauf Sherif, Atikur Rahman, Masud Ahmad, Mohammad Alam, Abdul Razzak and Ashraf Khadir.
According to CPJ as of December 1, 2022, 363 reporters are currently deprived of their freedom. The figure is a new global high which overtakes last year's record by 20%, CPJ said, adding that it marks another "grim milestone in a deteriorating media landscape".
The non-profit body, which defends the right of journalists to report the news safely and without fear of reprisal, released its annual prison census on Wednesday. As the cases are ongoing, all journalists are suffering in jail with families waiting for justice to prevail.
Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan, 35, was arrested on August 27, 2018, during a night raid by Jammu and Kashmir Police and paramilitary forces at his Firdous Abad residence in Srinagar. He was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and various other sections of the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) – now the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The charges against Sultan, who worked as an assistant editor at a news magazine called the Kashmir Narrator, included criminal conspiracy, harbouring militants, aiding and participating in militancy, charges that his colleagues, family and media rights bodies later rejected vehemently. Before Sultan was booked under the controversial Public Safety Act (PSA) – the law that allows detention without trial for up to two years – a special judge on the National Investigation Agency (NIA) court ordered his release on April 5.
The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978 is a preventive detention law under which a person is taken into custody to prevent them from acting harmfully against "the security of the state or the maintenance of the public order" in J&K.
However, when his family went to visit him at Batamaloo police station, was shocked after learning that Sultan's detention would continue under PSA despite a bail order from the court in previous cases. Sultan's close confidant told The Citizen that his lawyer's office was raided by the J&K Police, while his phone and laptop was seized. Sultan's family has refused to comment fearing repercussions.
Sultan is the third journalist from Kashmir to be booked under the PSA since January. Earlier, the J&K police booked a journalism student Sajad Gul after a court granted him bail in cases involving charges like "spreading disinformation" and "provoking" people against the government.
Gul was detained under PSA, on January 16, 2022, a day after a court had given him bail in a criminal conspiracy case. The Public Safety Act allows the authorities to hold individuals in custody without trial for up to two years on grounds of national security and up to a year for the maintenance of public order.
The 26-year-old budding journalist was first arrested on January 6 after he posted a video of family members and relatives of Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Salim Parray protesting against his death in a gunfight on the outskirts of Srinagar. The video posted on his Twitter account on January 3 showed women shouting anti-government slogans during the protests.
Speaking to The Citizen Javaid Gul said that his brother has been wrongfully incarcerated and it pains him and his family to see such a brilliant student suffer. "He is a student who was finishing his studies. We still do not understand the reason why he was picked up," he said.
Javaid Gul said that when he went to meet his brother inside the jail ten days back, he was told that he and other prisoners are not even allowed to read inside the cell. "Not even a pen is inside the cell. He cannot have books. When I asked him the reason, Sajad said the police is doing whatever it wants to," he added.
Sajad Gul's elder brother Javaid said that their family is in distress while he is away from his house so that he could somehow meet his brother. "I have told my family I won't come back till my brother does not come out. Our mother is heartbroken and there is a lot of stress in the family," he said.
Gul's lawyer Umair Ronga, on the other hand, said that they are in the process of appealing for bail and refused to comment on the matter. At the time of his arrest, Gul was working as a trainee reporter with the portal The Kashmir Walla.
Meanwhile, in another case, on February 4, another journalist Fahad Shah was arrested by police in Pulwama and later shifted to Shopian and Srinagar for different cases until finally he was booked under the PSA.
He was granted bail after 22 days by a National Investigation Agency court. However, hours after he got bail on February 26, Shah was arrested again on the same day by the Shopian Police in another case related to provocation for riots. On March 5, he got bail but was immediately arrested in a third matter.
In this case, Shah had been charged under Indian Penal Code sections that provide punishment for rioting, attempt to murder, abetment, printing or engraving defamatory matter and public mischief. On March 11, he was charged under the UAPA again.
On December 9, a special NIA court in Srinagar granted bail to Fahad Shah in two cases, his lawyer Umair Ronga said. "Special court designated under NIA today granted bail to the chief editor of @tkwmag @pzfahad in FIR No 70/2020 P/S Safakadal and FIR No 19/2022 P/S Pulwama," Ronga said in a tweet.
Ronga said there was still one case pending in Jammu against the journalist. "We have also challenged his detention under the Public Safety Act. It will come up for hearing on December 15," he added.
The cases that he received bail for were registered in Safakadal and Pulwama.
CPJ said that India continues to draw criticism over its treatment of the media, in particular for the use of the preventive detention law, the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA).
This law has been used to keep Kashmiri journalists Aasif Sultan, Fahad Shah and Sajad Gul behind bars "after they were granted court-ordered bail in separate cases", the organisation said.
Another Kashmiri journalist Manan Dar, a young freelance journalist, whose work has featured in international publications like The Guardian, has been arrested by the NIA in connection with a Kashmir militant conspiracy case.
Manan Gulzar Dar, 24, who has adopted the name Muhammad Manan for his professional work, was summoned to the police station in Srinagar's Batamaloo locality on October 10. A photojournalist by profession, one of Dar's images from the aftermath of an encounter in Srinagar in July this year was featured in the Guardian's 'Twenty photographs of the week section.
The agency had arrested Manan's brother, Hanan Gulzar Dar, a college student, earlier this month. The two brothers are among 13 suspects who have been arrested in a case filed by the agency under various sections of UAPA and IPC after members of the minority community and migrant workers were targeted by suspected militants in Kashmir earlier this month.
Meanwhile, 70-year-old Gautam Navlakha, freelance journalist and activist, walked out of prison on November 19, and was taken to a building in Navi Mumbai where he has been living under house arrest. His release from Taloja prison after more than two years came after the Supreme Court earlier this month granted his plea seeking house arrest on medical grounds.
The apex court had on November 10 allowed Navlakha to be placed under house arrest on account of his health, against a payment of Rs 2.4 lakh to cover the expenses of security while under house arrest.
However, the NIA had sought that Navlakha's shift to house arrest from the prison be put on hold, initially citing security concerns about the premises and then noting that the residence was above a library of the Communist Party of India.
Taking a dim view of the NIA's objections, the top court had said, "If you are trying to find out some loopholes to see that our order is defied, we will take a very serious view of it… If with the entire police force you cannot keep a watch on a 70-year-old ailing man, then think about the weakness… Please do not say such a thing. With all the might of the State, you are not able to keep a 70-year-old ailing man in house confinement."
The case relates to alleged inflammatory speeches made at the 'Elgar Parishad' conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which Pune police claimed triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon Bhima war memorial on the outskirts of the western Maharashtra city. The Pune police had claimed the conclave was backed by Maoists.
One of the accused, tribal rights activists Stan Swamy, passed away in July last year, after he had contracted COVID-19 in prison. The 84-year-old was denied medical care for over ten days before he was finally moved to a hospital on May 30, 2021. He had complained of fever and weakness during those ten days.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on December 13, extended till the second week of January its interim order placing Navlakha under house arrest.
On the other hand, Jharkhand based journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh, was slapped with another case and a fresh FIR was registered against him. "Rupesh was slapped with a fake case from 2018 by the Jharkhand Police in Toklo prison. It is visible that the government does not want Rupesh to come out," Ipsa Shatakshi, his wife, told The Citizen.
Rupesh Kumar, who is an independent journalist has been in jail since July 17 after he was arrested in connection with another case filed under UAPA as well as various sections of the IPC. According to Shatakshi he is being slapped with fresh cases every time they apply for bail.
On July 17, the Jharkhand Police arrested Singh in connection with a 2021 case. The police have alleged that Singh used to arrange funds for Maoists. Singh was among the 40 Indian journalists whose phone numbers appeared in a leaked database, which reflects potential targets of cyber surveillance through the use of the Pegasus hacking software that an Israeli company claims to sell only to governments.
Fresh cases were later added against him. Of the two fresh cases, one is based on a first information report (FIR) filed against 'unknown persons' on June 30 in Jharkhand's Bokaro district at Jageshwar Police Station. The other case pertains to an FIR filed on April 26 in Rohtas, Bihar, and is being handled by National Investigation Agency (NIA).
According to reports, in the FIR pertaining to the Bokaro case, Rupesh is not among the seven accused named in the FIR for allegedly carrying out Maoist operations against the state. However, he had been asked to appear before the police as the FIR also includes "unknown persons".
The charges levelled in the FIR include Sections 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in the prosecution of common object), 307 (attempt to murder) and 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) of the IPC.
Speaking to The Citizen Shatakshi said, "The chargesheet is yet to be filed and he has not been named in the FIR as it is unknown. This is just an intimidating technique and to stop the kind of work that he has been doing."
Shatakshi, who was working as a teacher in a government school had to leave her job due to the pressure of handling the case. "I have a young son who is aware of the situation his father is in. It is becoming so hard for us to live a life. We don't have any income as well and are using our savings," she said.
She also said that because Rupesh covers the niche rural areas of Jharkhand and is not in Delhi there is not much outrage for him. "He is being treated as a criminal, like he is a terrorist… this is what he is going through," she added.