India: IJU Welcomes Bail to Kashmir Journo05 Jan, 2023
The Indian Journalists Union welcomes bail granted to 25-year-old Kashmir-based photojournalist Mohammad Manan Dar, languishing in jail since 22 October 2021, accused of ‘plotting terrorist acts in Kashmir and major cities in India.’ The Union cautioned the NIA against deliberately targeting journalists under UAPA, specially in Kashmir, and to make note of the court order: Upon analysis of entire evidence and at least for purpose of disposal of bail application it can be observed that “accusation against the accused does not appear to be cogent and true.”
The NIA had alleged Dar was working as an overground worker of Lashkar-e-Taiba and its off-shoot ‘The Resistance Front’, and “knowingly entered into a conspiracy with terrorist commanders based across the border as well as active terrorists in the Valley” to “assist unrest”. However, Dar claimed he was a freelance photojournalist who has covered news and conflict in Kashmir and contributed to agencies like Getty Images.
Granting him bail on Tuesday, the court was firm that even if it’s accepted the probe revealed a new form of ‘hybrid cadre’ of terrorist or undercover cadre/terrorists assisting proscribed terrorist organisation discreetly whereas ostensibly carrying on legitimate activities like advocate, journalist etc., “one must note that such allegation must be supported by direct evidence of any such activities… Mere assumptions or incomplete evidence to establish such facts may not be sufficient to indicate accused being part of conspiracy or other charges.”
In a statement, IJU President and former Member, Press Council of India Geetartha Pathak and Secretary General and Vice President of International Federation of Journalists Sabina Inderjit said the court’s observation reiterates the grim reality that journalists are being harassed and intimidated by investigating agencies on frivolous grounds. Cases such as those of Sajad Gul, Yusuf Kamran Yousuf, Asif Sultan, Fahad Shah from the Valley and now of Dar reveal the crass misuse of laws by anti-terror agency and others. The IJU demanded this attack on journalists and press freedom must stop and governments must respect the right of citizens to information, which is critical in any democratic society.