SRINAGAR: Accusing the authorities of “falsely” implicating Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan on charges of “promoting militancy”, the Committee to Protect Journalists has written to Governor Satya Pal Malik to drop all legal proceedings and set him free immediately.

“His editor and family have credibly disputed these claims and say his work was strictly that of a journalist gathering news. No charge sheet has been filed,” Steven Butler, the Asia Program Coordinator of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote in a letter to Governor Malik.

“Freedom of the press is a vital tenet of democracy and a proud part of India's history. We urge you to use the authority vested in you as governor of Jammu and Kashmir to help immediately ensure that Aasif Sultan is released and that the charges against him are dropped,” the letter states.

Aasif, who worked as assistant editor with Kashmir Narrator magazine, was held by J&K Police on August 27 last year in a First Information Report filed for Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act after a gunfight in Batamaloo on August 12.

Police picked up Aasif after a cover story by the magazine on Burhan Wani included interviews with overground workers of militant outfits. According to reports, he was asked, among other things, to reveal his sources of the story and why he had not instead reported on the government-backed developmental activities in the state.

“We would like to stress that interviewing or having sources who are critical of the government is within the scope of a journalists' job and does not implicate them in a crime. Reporting on an important and newsworthy story such as the conflict in Kashmir is a public service, not a criminal act,” the CPJ wrote in a fax to Malik, which has also been copied to union home minister Rajnath Singh.

The CPJ letter also states that journalists operate in a dangerous environment in Kashmir, “We are extremely concerned about the climate for press freedom. In the past year, CPJ has documented various attacks against journalists, including the murder of Shujaat Bukhari and the questioning and detention of multiple reporters for their work,” it said.

India slipped two ranks on the 2018 World Press Freedom Index from 138 from 136, one spot below Myanmar and one spot above Pakistan. Journalist in Kashmir often face the music at the hands of authorities for not following the official narrative.

In September 2017, another journalist, Kamran Yusuf, was arrested by the NIA for allegedly encouraging stone pelting and mobilising people to pelt stones on security personnel. He was however granted bail after the police failed to produce evidence against him.