Journalist Sajad Gul’s arrest ‘deters’ scribes, say Kashmir media bodies

Sajad Gul Journalist
Sajad Dar uses nom de guerre Sajad Gul for his journalistic work | Photo - Special Arrangement

Prominent journalist bodies and editors have condemned the arrest of Sajad Ahmad Dar, a budding Kashmiri journalist from north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, saying that such action deters “independent and investigative reporting” in the region, and urged authorities to release him and drop all charges against him.

Sajad Dar uses nom de guerre Sajad Gul for his journalistic work. He was arrested under various charges including “criminal conspiracy” on January 5, days after he posted a video following an encounter on the outskirts of Srinagar.

An armed militant identified as Saleem Parray was killed in the gunfight in Shalimar area of Srinagar. Gul had posted a video on Twitter purportedly showing kin and locals in Hajin area bereaving the militant’s death while some of them raised anti-government slogans.

Gul, 26, is pursuing his degree in journalism. His family does not have financial strength to bear the legal expenses.

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Fahad Shah, editor of the Srinagar-based magazine and news portal The Kashmir Walla, told The Federal that Gul, after working as a contributor for some time, had on December 15, 2021, formally joined the organisation as a trainee reporter.

“We at The Kashmir Walla have arranged a lawyer for Sajad Gul. Today (January 10), our lawyer filed for his bail application,” Shah told The Federal, adding that “the security and political situation in Jammu and Kashmir will not change by keeping a young journalist like Gul in jail.”

According to Shah, a bail application could not be filed on January 8 for it was a gazetted holiday.

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On January 5, Gul was in Srinagar when the army personnel arrived at his residence in the volatile Shahgund Hajin area in north Kashmir. According to Gul’s family, the soldiers took Gul’s contact details and left.

Upon returning to his native village on the evening of January 5, Gul received a call from an unknown number. According to his family, the caller had identified himself as an army officer who asked Gul to come out as he was preparing to hit the sack.

“Sajad informed us that the soldiers are asking him to come outside and that he will return soon. He assured us that he will talk to them to know what the matter was all about,” said his sibling.

“Gul’s arrest is part of the process to make journalism impossible. It is continuous harassment and intimidation. In such cases, the process is the punishment. With Gul’s arrest, the authorities are trying to dissuade budding journalists from pursuing journalism as a career,” Shah said.

Demand for release

The Kashmir Press Club (KPC) demanded the immediate release of journalist Gul while “urging authorities to drop all cases against him to allow him pursue his media education and career in journalism”.

“The FIR against him is purely aimed at criminalising the reportage and journalistic work in Kashmir,” the KPC said.

Voicing concern over continuous harassment and threats of legal action against journalists in Kashmir by the police authorities, the KPC said that these actions “have effectively restrained independent and investigative reporting from the region”.

The Asia desk of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also deplored Gul’s arrest. Stating that it was “deeply disturbed” by Gul’s arrest, it asked authorities to immediately release him and “drop their investigations related to his journalistic work”.

In June 2021, the United Nations too had expressed concern over the “alleged arbitrary detention and intimidation” of journalists in the restive region. The UN had also made a mention of Gul’s case, as he had been questioned/charged in other cases earlier too.

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The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also called for the immediate release of Gul, describing his arrest as “arbitrary”.

“We call on the judicial authorities in Sumbal to order the immediate release of Sajad Gul, whose only crime is to have tried to inform his fellow citizens about the realities of the situation in Kashmir,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

Mehbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister and President of the J&K People’s Democratic Party (PDP), condemned Gul’s arrest. “There is a different set of laws applicable to J&K vis-a-vis rest of India. Radicalised groups openly calling for genocide of Muslims are roaming free while Kashmiri journalists shining a light on state-sponsored human rights violations are jailed. Laws too have been communalised,” she tweeted.

Safoora Zargar, a well-known anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protester, took to Twitter to register her protest against Gul’s detention, saying that he must be “immediately released and all trumped up charges against him must be dropped”.

“Sajad Gul is a student and a journalist. The job of a journalist is to bring out different aspects of the truth. Those who wield influence and are powerful are often uncomfortable with this. Sajad’s arrest is illegal,” Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of the Jammu-based English daily Kashmir Times said. She added: Gul should be set free immediately.”

On Twitter, many journalists have started a hashtag #releasesajadgul.

Gul had feared his arrest for a while. A few days back he had said that “I sleep with all my clothes on, I keep shoes beside my bed. I do not know when they will raid our house again and take me away.”

Police version

On January 8 (Saturday), the Jammu and Kashmir Police produced a charge sheet before the Judicial Magistrate, Sumbal in north Kashmir, against Sajad Gul, which said he was “trying to disrupt peace and tranquillity” and involved in “tweeting fake news”, allegedly with the aim “to provoke people against the government.”

In a detailed press statement, the police said that “Sajad Ahmad Dar, son of Ghulam Muhammad Dar of Shahgund Hajin, runs a Twitter account in the name of Sajad Gul, and is always in search of anti-government news and uploads tweets, which are not based on facts in order to provoke the people against the government and to spread enmity against the country among the people”.

The journalist has been booked under Sections 120 B (criminal conspiracy),153 B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration), 505 (intent to incite) of the Indian Penal Code.

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