The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists asked authorities to immediately release a journalist in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK), days after police arrested him for uploading a video clip of a protest against Indian rule.
The media watchdog on Saturday said it was “deeply disturbed” by the arrest of Sajad Gul, an independent journalist and media student. It wrote on Twitter it was asking Indian authorities to “drop their investigation related to his journalistic work”.
Indian soldiers picked up Gul from his home in northeastern Shahgund village on Wednesday night and later handed him over to the police, his family said. He had posted a video of family members and relatives protesting the killing of a freedom fighter on Monday.
Initially, police said he would be released but on Friday, his family was told that a formal case was opened against Gul on charges of criminal conspiracy and working against national integration. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment or even the death penalty.
Journalists have increasingly voiced concerns about harassment and threats by the police that have effectively restricted reporting after India revoked IoK’s semi-autonomy and divided the region into two federally governed territories in 2019.
Many journalists have been arrested, beaten, harassed and sometimes investigated under anti-terrorism laws.
The Kashmir Press Club, an elected body of journalists in the region, has repeatedly urged the Indian government to allow them to report freely, saying security agencies were using physical attacks, threats and summons to muzzle the press.
India’s decision to strip the region of its special powers in August 2019 brought journalism to a near halt in IoK for months. India began implementing a policy in 2020 that gives the government more power to censure independent reporting.
Fearing reprisals from government agencies, most of the local press has wilted under pressure. Journalists have also come under scrutiny through anonymous online threats the government says are linked to rebels fighting against Indian rule.
Since 1989, a full-blown armed freedom movement has raged in IoK seeking a united Kashmir — either under Pakistani rule or independent of both countries. The region is one of the most heavily militarised in the world. Tens of thousands of civilians, freedom fighters and government forces have been killed in the conflict.