Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Police in Indian-administered Kashmir have arrested a journalist under a controversial law, one day after he was granted bail in a separate case of alleged criminal conspiracy.
Sajad Gul, 26, was booked on Sunday under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows the detention of an individual without trial for six months, and has been moved to a distant prison where his family will have a hard time reaching him.
Gul was first arrested on January 6 for posting a video on social media about a protest at the home of a rebel killed during a gunfight with the Indian armed forces.
A statement released by the police said Gul, “under the garb of journalism”, would “spread disinformation and false narratives” on social media and “provoke” the residents to “resort to violence”.
A court in Bandipora district granted him bail in the case on Saturday but a day later, police told Gul’s family that the journalist had been booked under the PSA.
In Indian-administered Kashmir, tough laws like the PSA are often used against a detainee to confine them for a longer period. Rights group Amnesty International calls the PSA a “lawless law”.
Confirming Gul’s arrest, a senior police official in Bandipora told Al Jazeera they “had been observing his social media activities for a long time which were against the sovereignty of the state”.
“There are a lot of things which he used to put on social media,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Gul works as a reporter with news portal, The Kashmir Walla, and is pursuing his master’s degree in convergent journalism.
Journalist Federation of Kashmir condemns the Public Safety Act against Journalist Sajad Gul
A day after the court granted him bail in the case over the alleged social media activity, the government on Sunday booked independent journalist & a student of journalism…
— Journalist Federation of Kashmir (@pressfreedomJFK) January 17, 2022
At Gul’s home in Shahgund village in Bandipora, his mother and brothers are anxious.
Zahoor Ahmad, 36, Gul’s brother, told Al Jazeera how he had gone to the police station on January 16 with his brother’s bail order granted by the court. But the police told him Gul would not be going home with him.
“I was expecting my brother would be released. But after waiting there for some time, I was told to go home and that he has been booked under another law,” Ahmad said.
“I pleaded with the police to let me meet my brother but they did not allow it. I was able to see him briefly when he was being taken outside Kashmir. I shivered,” he said.
The family said it would be difficult for them to visit their son in a jail in Jammu, some 327km (200 miles) away from Bandipora.
Gul’s lawyer Umair N Ronga told Al Jazeera the authorities had yet to provide the documentation related to his detention to him or his family.
“Once we get the documents pertaining to the grounds of detention, then we can legally seek the quashing of his detention order,” Ronga said.
Along with family of our reporter Sajad Gul, I spent whole day in Bandipora to get his PSA dossier from admin but nobody really cared. Instead, we are told take it from Sajad, who is in jail, he has the copy. One official said you want a copy for media stories not court. https://t.co/zqUDVqb7vq
— Fahad Shah (@pzfahad) January 17, 2022
This is not the first time Gul has faced action from Indian authorities. In February last year, he was charged with inciting a riot after he reported the demolition of homes and businesses in a village near his home.
‘Media seen as enemy of state’
In Indian-administered Kashmir, harassment of journalists has escalated since August 2019 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing government scrapped the region’s limited autonomy and divided it into two federally-controlled territories.
Gul’s arrest and the closing of the press club highlight the climate of fear under which the journalists in the region are operating.
On Wednesday, the government shut down Kashmir Press Club, the region’s largest registered body of media professionals with more than 300 journalists as members. The move to close the premise came after a group of journalists, backed by the government, “forcibly” took over the administration of the club from an elected body of representatives.
India was ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index by the French media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Gul’s arrest has been widely criticised, with several journalist bodies demanding his release and expressing concern over New Delhi’s crackdown on journalism in Kashmir.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the police’s decision to book Gul in another case is “a transparent effort to hold him, no matter what the court decides”.
Sanjay Kapoor, head of the Editors Guild of India, told Al Jazeera that “it is really upsetting that the young reporter has been arrested for reporting and tweeting”.
“Democracy, clearly, has been stifled in Kashmir and the media is seen as the enemy of the state. Most of the publications are at the mercy of the state as their advertising and survival depend on how they behave. That’s the reason they don’t say much about their journalists like Gul being treated in this manner,” he said.