The International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed concern over the re-arrest of Kashmir journalist Aasif Sultan just two days after he was released from prison where he had been held for five years. Sultan, who previously worked as an assistant editor at the now-defunct Kashmir Narrator, was re-arrested under India’s anti-terror law. The latest detention results from the journalist’s alleged involvement in prison riots that took place in April 2019 in Srinagar prison. 

Sultan’s re-arrest follows a pattern by which journalists in Kashmir have been detained, released, and then re-arrested on other charges, extending their period behind bars. Other prominent examples include Fahad Shah, the former editor of the Kashmir Walla, who was freed and re-arrested multiple times in recent years. Shah has been free since last November following a court order.

Sultan was initially arrested in 2018 under India’s notorious Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the criminal code for “harbouring known terrorists” at his residence. However, investigators did not find sufficient evidence for such accusations and Sultan was acquitted in 2022, only to be rearrested and charged five days later under the likewise draconian Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows for pre-trial detention for up to two years.

Last December, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court ruled Sultan’s pre-detention as “illegal and unsustainable” and ordered his release, saying authorities had not produced any credible evidence.

Sultan has now been charged with “rioting, unlawful assembly, endangering human life and attempt to murder” of the Indian Penal Code (ICP), as well as “advocating, abetting or inciting unlawful activity” of the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). According to reports, he is unlikely to be granted bail under the UAPA, meaning he could now face indefinite imprisonment.

“The IPI global network is alarmed by the re-arrest of Aasif Sultan, who already spent five years behind bars without conviction and where authorities, according to a court ruling last year, failed to produce credible evidence against him on other charges and violated his right to a proper defence”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Sultan’s case is the latest example of arbitrary action taken by authorities against journalists in Kashmir, who are subject to a Kafkaesque, revolving-door pattern of arrests, releases, and re-arrests.”

“We repeat our call on the Indian authorities to end the mass crackdown on media freedom and independent journalism in Kashmir, including the instrumentalization of vague legal provisions intended to instil fear in the journalistic community.”