South Asia: Jailed Kashmiri journalist gets US Press Freedom Award

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By Muhammad Luqman

The National Press Club, a Washington-based professional and social club for working journalists, has honoured Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan – who has been jailed in India for over a year now for his reporting – with its annual John Aubuchhon Press Freedom Award, according to foreign media reports.

Aasif was arrested on the intervening night of 27 and 28 August last year on fake charges. The accusations are rubbished by his colleagues as well who say the police action was meant to intimidate not just Aasif but the entire journalist fraternity in Kashmir.

The police seized his electronic devices and notebooks. They interrogated him about his sources and asked him to become an informant, his editor has said, according to a news release.

“Sultan’s case reflects worsening conditions for the press and citizenry in (occupied) Kashmir, ,” the NPC said in the announcement.

The Indian-controlled section of Kashmir had been semi-autonomous for decades, the Press Club announcement said.

“But the current Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, moved earlier this month to bring the region fully under the central government’s control. Modi’s government has instituted a crackdown and a communications blackout that has left journalists struggling to report the news, and many have been incarcerated or beaten,” the NPC said.

“It is completely unacceptable for India to violate the basic human rights of reporters and to deny the people of Kashmir access to unfiltered information through an unfettered press,” Alison Kodjak, President of the National Press Club, said.

In February this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on Jammu and Kashmir police to immediately cease all legal proceedings against journalist Aasif Sultan and release him from jail after local news outlets reported that formal charges were filed against him today.

Sultan, along with nine other individuals, has been charged with harbouring and giving support to a militant organization and for hatching a criminal conspiracy under India’s Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the CPJ noted

“Filing terrorism-related charges against journalist Aasif Sultan, despite a complete lack of evidence, marks a terrible injustice and further undermines press freedom in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, from Washington, D.C.

Parents of Aasif Sultan who has been in jail for almost a year now in Srinagar Saturday learnt their son had won a prestigious award two days after the announcement. They, however, were clueless about the name of the award or who has given it thanks to the communication restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Someone told me that my son had been given an award this week. I don’t know who has given it or what does it mean for his case but whoever has taken this step I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart,” said his father Mohammad Sultan, a retired government official.


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