Aasif Sultan is a 34-year-old Kashmiri journalist who covered politics and human rights for Kashmir Narrator, a monthly news magazine published in Srinagar. He wrote for the magazine a detailed profile of Burhan Wani, a top militant leader who was killed in an encounter with the Indian forces in 2016 and had since then become a symbol of protests against the government in the disputed territory. He was arrested on August 27, 2018, after police alleged that he worked for the banned militant group Hizbul Mujahideen. Showkat Motta, the editor of Kashmir Narrator, said that Asif was framed and that he has been targeted for his bold journalism.
Life and Activism
He is married and has a daughter, who was six months old when he was arrested. His journalistic work is the real reason for his framing in the case and which was later brazenly acknowledged by the police in the Public Safety Act dossier. Aasif was arrested on August 27, 2018, under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. He was refused bail and his trial began in June 2019.
On October 17, 2019, Sultan received the annual John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award by the National Press Club of America. Committee to Protect Journalists and various other international organisations have demanded the release of Aasif Sultan.
Circumstances of arrest –
On August 27, 2018, the police conducted a raid at his residence, seizing his gadgets, books, and journals, alleging incriminating material. The same night, the police took Aasif with them. His father said that Aasif had been illegally detained from August 27 to 31. The police didn’t make their inquiry public until his formal arrest. The police further accused Aasif of promoting terrorism and radicalizing young minds against the government, specifying his cover story on the late militant Burhan Wani published a week before the 2nd death anniversary of Burhan Wani in 2018. In custody, Aasif was enquired about the cover story and headlines in Kashmir Narrator. The police asked why he didn’t report on any development but only on the conflict in the valley. Later, police accused him of having links with non-combatant members of Hizbul Mujahideen, a banned militant group, but they couldn’t provide any evidence to back up their allegation.
He is the first Kashmiri Journalist to be slapped with UAPA, an anti-terror law and PSA, a draconian preventive detention law. A lower court denied him bail in Srinagar in November 2018. In February 2019, police filed a charge sheet accusing him of harbouring militants.
On April 5, 2022, a special National Investigation Act court of Special Judge in Srinagar had ordered Aasif Sultan’s release in the case on a bail bond of Rs 2 lakh. The court said that, “There is neither any direct evidence nor any substantial evidence on the record which would have connected the accused/applicant herein with the alleged crime, so in the absence of ocular as well as substantial evidence on the record the grounds were taken by the learned counsel for the accused/applicant herein carries weight,” Before his release from jail he was lapped with the PSA, hich allows preventive detention for upto two years without a trial. The journalist has now spent over 4 years in prison, most of it in Srinagar Central Jail. A group of his friends and supporters continue to run an online campaign for his release with the hashtag #FreeAasifSultan.