New Delhi: At least 250 journalists were imprisoned worldwide for their reporting during 2019, with two of them — both from J&K — imprisoned in India, according to a report by the Community to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent, non-profit organisation that promotes press freedom.
Globally, the Xi Jinping-led communist government in China and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan regime remained the leading countries to jail the journalists, accounting for 38 per cent or 95 of the total jailed journalists as on December 1, 2019. The two were followed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia where at least 26 journalists each are behind the bars.
CPJ's prison census accounts only for journalists in government custody and does not include those who have disappeared or are held captive by non-state actors. It includes only those who it has confirmed have been imprisoned in relation to their work. The latest list includes only those incarcerated as on December 1, 2019 and does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year.
In India, Kashmir Narrator’s Aasif Sultan, 32, has been behind bars for more than year now. Sultan was arrested in August 2018 by the Jammu and Kashmir Police over his “complicity for harbouring known terrorists involved in a series of terror crimes,” as per media reports. An assistant editor at his organisation, Sultan covered politics and has written several stories on militancy in J&K.
A month before his arrest, Sultan had written a story on the slain Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani, whose killing by Indian security forces had led to a wave of demonstrations in the Valley in July 2016. “Sultan’s story included interviews with non-combatant members of Wani’s militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen, and according to his editor Showkat Motta, police pressured Sultan to disclose his sources for the story,” CPJ reported. His family and organisation deny the charges levelled against him.
While in jail, Sultan, along with another US journalist, was awarded the prestigious ‘John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award’ in August this year by the National Press Club. "Sultan was imprisoned last August and is accused of aiding insurgents even though he merely reported on them,” the National Press Club had said in a statement while criticising the “communications blackout” in Jammu and Kashmir by the Modi government.
Qazi Shibli, another Jammu and Kashmir journalist, was allegedly detained by the police for questioning on July 25 this year “after he tweeted an official order regarding the deployment of additional paramilitary troops across the region”, according to the news website that he worked for. He was later arrested on August 8 for alleged separatist activities, CPJ reported. Two months after the arrest, Shibli was moved to Bareilly district jail in Uttar Pradesh.
According to the arrest order, as reported by CPJ, Shibli has been booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) on accusations including “waging war against the Union of India,” “creating fear and panic among common people,” being “deeply involved in disrupting the peaceful atmosphere,” and seeking “to motivate the people to work for seceding the state of Jammu and Kashmir from the union of India.” A detainee under the PSA can be kept in jail for two years without trial.
“The imprisonment of a single journalist is a terrible injustice that has far-reaching consequences for families, friends, and colleagues,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, in a press statement. “But the imprisonment of hundreds of journalists -- year after year -- is a threat to the global information system on which we all depend. Repressive governments are using these cruel tactics to deprive their own societies and the entire world of essential information.”