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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 16 April 2024

Journalist freed after 2,011 days: Kashmir's longest-jailed scribe released, but 'called'

The special NIA judge had said he was granting Sultan bail because he had found 'no direct evidence nor any substantial evidence on record that would have connected the accused' to the alleged crimes

Muzaffar Raina Srinagar Published 01.03.24, 06:36 AM
Aasif Sultan.

Aasif Sultan. File picture

Kashmir’s longest-incarcerated journalist, Aasif Sultan, has earned freedom after spending 2,011 days in different jails across the country, offering reprieve to his deeply traumatised family.

Sources said Sultan, 35, was released 78 days after Jammu and Kashmir High Court quashed his detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA). The delay was necessitated by a cumbersome process which required clearance from the magistrates of all Valley districts.

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Fresh worries gripped the family in the evening when he was allegedly summoned by the police and shifted to Rainawari police station, sources said. The police were tight-lipped about the development.

“Aasif (Sultan) was released on Tuesday evening from Ambedkar Nagar Jail in Uttar Pradesh, which is over 500km from Agra. Some family members had gone there to bring him home,” a source said earlier in the day.

“The family is jubilant over his release. We all believed he would be released in a matter of days, but he ended up spending months and years in jail. Areeba, his only child, was born a few months before his arrest and today she is nearly six years old. They have not seen each other in a long time. Both his parents are ailing, missing for years their only aid.”

Sultan’s elder brother works abroad, so Sultan used to take care of the family.

The source said some reported amendments in the PSA prolonged his ordeal. “The high court had granted him bail on December 11, 2023. We were told that some changes have been made in the PSA, which requires clearance from all district magistrates in Kashmir once he is bailed by courts. That is why it took a long
time,” he said.

Award-winning journalist Sultan, who worked as a reporter with the Kashmir Narrator magazine, was initially booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in 2018 but was granted bail by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in April 2022, only to be booked under the stringent PSA to
deny him freedom.

The special NIA judge had said he was granting Sultan bail because he had found “no direct evidence nor any substantial evidence on record that would have connected the accused” to the alleged crimes.

The grounds of detention under the PSA ironically showed him making a startling journey — while being locked up in jail for years — from an “over-ground
worker of Hizbul Mujahideen” to an associate of al Qaida affiliate Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind.

The grounds also claimed he was an over-ground worker (OGW) of The Resistance Front, a militant group formed months after his 2018 arrest.

That had raised questions about how he could work for these militant outfits while in jail. His lawyer had said the chargesheet made no mention of these charges for years.

Sultan’s family had insisted that he was arrested for his professional work, saying his ordeal began after he wrote an article, “The rise of Burhan”, on slain Hizb militant Burhan Wani in 2018.

Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan was killed by the security forces in July 2016. The police had earlier accused Sultan of glorifying militancy in his writings.

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