Free speech activists have slammed the dossier that the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) police have issued to justify the detention of journalist Sajad Gul under the Public Safety Act (PSA), saying it has become the norm to use vague terms such as ‘national inter-est’ to silence critics of the Indian government.
Gul, a final-year student of convergent journal-ism at the Central University of Kashmir, was ini-tially arrested in early January for uploading a video of a protest. While he was granted bail by a court, the police invoked the PSA to keep him in deten-tion.
Activists told The Wire that vague terms such as “national interest”, “threat to law and order”, “coun-try’s sovereignty” or similar others have been used by law enforcement agencies to target the critics of the policies adopted by the Union government in Jammu and Kashmir following the dilution of Arti-cle 370. According to official data, the number of cases filed under the PSA in J&K has spiked from 134 in 2020 to 331 last year.
Geeta Seshu of the Free Speech Collective, a rights advocacy group, termed the PSA dossier against Gul as “a fantastic work of fiction if it wasn’t such a serious charge”.
“The dossier has made completely wild state-ments and not ever tried to maintain the fig leaf of evidence, because obviously there isn’t any! It actu-ally admits it has zero basis to charge him, as it says there is ‘every apprehension that you may get bailed out from an Hon’ble court of law’, thereby denying even the process of justice for him,” she told The Wire.
Seshu said the treatment meted out to Gul is “extremely distressing” as every citizen of India has the right to disseminate information in the public interest. “It is this right which is being denied and criminalised. Kashmir is long considered the labora-tory for [censoring] the media and the detention of Sajad Gul is a warning to all of us,” she said.
Fahad Shah, the editor of the news website The Kashmir Walla – where Gul works, has approached the J&K and Ladakh high court with a petition to quash the PSA invoked against Gul. “The PSA was slapped against him only to keep him in jail after the court granted him bail. This is abuse of power to harass and suppress a young journalist and send a message to everyone else that if you try to report people’s expression of dissent, you will be si-lenced,” he said.
What did the dossier say? The J&K police de-fended Gul’s detention under the draconian PSA by saying that the journalists reports less about the “welfare” of the territory and is “rather promoting enmity”. The police dossier claimed that his work can “manipulate” the people of Kashmir, posing a “potential threat” to the “sovereignty of the coun-try.”
Gul was initially whisked away from his Bandi-pora residence on January 5 and charged under Sec-tions 147 and 148 (rioting with deadly weapons and subsequent punishment), 336 (rashly or negligently endangering human life), 307 (attempt to murder) and 153-B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
After spending around nine days in jail, a local court in the north Kashmir district granted him bail on January 15. However, instead of releasing him, the police booked him under the stringent PSA, described by Amnesty International as a “lawless law”, and shifted him more than 300 km away, to the Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu.
The “arbitrary” detention prompted massive outrage across the country. Global rights advocacy organisations and media groups such as the Com-mittee to Protect Journalists, regional political lead-ers and local journalists in Kashmir also urged the authorities to “drop their investigation related to his journalistic work”.
In its dossier, the J&K police justified invoking the act against Gul because of his “negative cri-tique” (sic) of the policies of J&K administration. “You are fond and have natural tendency to support your anti national/anti social desires, so as to cherish your dream….You remain in search of anti national/ anti social tweets,” the dossier says.
The three-page dossier submitted by the senior superintendent of police, Bandipora, on January 11 and approved by the Bandipora district magistrate, Owais Ahmad, accuses Gul of posting tweets “without factual check in order to provoke the peo-ple against the Government”. The dossier accused Gul of working as “self proclaimed messiah of ter-rorists and their families” who “raises issues which harm the national interests”.
Refers to previous cases The dossier also re-ferred to the three FIRs in which Gul has been booked over the past year to justify his detention under the PSA. One of the FIRs was filed on a po-lice complaint following an anti-encroachment drive carried out by the Bandipora district administration in the Hajin area, the native village of Gul, in Feb-ruary last year, allegedly without serving notices to the encroachers.
Gul had reported on the “illegal” demolition drive for a local news portal, Kashmir Walla, where he had joined as a staff reporter before his arrest. Gul’s brother Javed Ahmed said he was threatened by a local tehsildar for reporting the allegations of the locals. “On the next day, the tehsildar came to our village and demolished our uncle’s fence and also damaged our property,” Javed told The Wire.
The second case (FIR No 79/2021) was also filed by the Hajin police station following an al-leged encounter on October 11 last year in which the J&K police claimed to have gunned down a suspected militant, Imtiyaz Ahmad Dar, a resident of the Shahgund area of Hajin, near his residence. Gul reported the allegations of the family, who claimed that Dar was gunned down in a “staged” gun battle.
The family’s allegations were also reported by sections of the local media in Kashmir, prompting the J&K administration to order an inquiry on De-cember 7. However, the fate of the official probe remains unknown. Bandipora district magistrate Ahmad could not be reached for his comment.
The J&K police, however, denied the allega-tions. Dar, they said, killed a civilian in Bandipora in October last year, when Kashmir was rattled by a series of targeted killings of non-locals and civil-ians. The police filed a case under Sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 153-B (imputations, asser-tions prejudicial to national integration) and 505 (public mischief) of the IPC and named Gul as one of the accused.
Regrading his story on the Shahgund ‘encoun-ter’, the PSA dossier says, Gul spread “false and fake narrative of anti-terrorist operation … in which one local terrorist …. was eliminated thereby agitat-ing against the security forces.”
—Courtesy The Wire