The court said that the detention order was based on ‘vague grounds’ and directed release the Kashmiri journalist.
SRINAGAR: The Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh High Court has quashed the detention of journalist Sajjad Gul under the Public Safety Act with the observation that there was no specific allegation against him to show that his activities could be ‘prejudicial to the security of the State’.
The court order comes a day after the High Court granted bail to editor Fahad Shah, Editor of The Kashmir Wallah, previously detained under PSA.
The J&K PSA empowers that authorities to detain an individual without trial for up to two years on grounds of national security and up to one year for maintenance of public order. Sajjad Gul was detained under PSA on January 16, 2022, a day after he was granted bail by a court in a criminal conspiracy case.
A division bench of J&K High Court comprising Chief Justice N Kotiswar Singh and Justice M A Chowdhary observed that the detention under PSA was based on ‘vague grounds’ and directed the authorities to release the Kashmir journalist. The court had passed the order on November 9 but was made public only on Saturday, November 18, 2023.
“…The detaining authority, before passing the order, has not applied its mind to draw subjective satisfaction to order prevention detention of the detenu by curtailing his liberty which is a valuable and cherishable right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” the order said.
The judges noted that Gul had not been given the three First Information Reports (FIRs) registered against him, copies of the dossier, statements of witnesses in the cases and other documents.
“In absence of providing the whole of the documentary record, the detenue cannot be said to be able to make an effective and meaningful representation against his detention which was his statutory as well as constitutional right,” the division bench added.
The grounds of detention, the judges said, do not indicate that Sajjad Gul had ever uploaded any false story.
The order read that “It is nowhere stated as to how the detenue had disrupted the public order.” “In the grounds of detention, it has also been referred that the uploading of the news items by the detenue, as a journalist, had created enmity and acrimony against government machinery, however, there is no specific instance as to which of the posts/write ups are there as being so and on what date.”
Charges against Sajjad Gul
The police dossier had claimed that Sajjad Gul being ‘well educated’, could use the social media to provoke people against the government and that being a journalist, he ‘promoted enmity’ than reporting about the welfare of Jammu and Kashmir.
The journalist first was arrested on January 6 after he posted a video of family members and relatives of Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Salim Parray protesting against his death in a gunfight on the outskirts of Srinagar city.
Filing three FIRs under 8 sections of the law, police had accused Gul of “creating obstacles” in an encroachment drive; allegedly uploading a video showing locals raising “anti-national slogans”; spreading “fake & false narrative” about an anti-terrorist operation.
In Dec 2021, @soul_restlesss reported how Gul faced police harassment for reporting both sides of a story, as journalists were being exhausted with calls from different police & security units, summons for interrogation & court hearings.
Justices Singh and Chowdhary noted that the detaining authority admitted that Gul was a journalist & it was his job to report, including on operations of security forces. “Such a tendency on the part of the detaining authority to detain the critics of the policies or commissions/ omissions of the govt machinery, as in the case of the present detenu—a professional media person, in our considered opinion is an abuse of the preventive law”, the court observed.
The High Court said the detaining authority contended that Gul “had been a negative critic towards the policies” of the govt of the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir “and that his tweets [were] used to provoke the people against the govt”
The video posted on his social media platform Twitter (Now ‘X’) account on January 3 showed women shouting anti-government slogans during the protests.
His arrest had been widely condemned, with several journalists’ bodies demanding his release and expressing concern about the crackdown on journalists in Jammu and Kashmir.
In February 2021, the journalist had been charged with “rioting, trespassing, and assault” for an article he wrote for The Kashmir Walla on February 9, according to the website.In the article, the villagers of Bandipora had alleged that they were being “harassed and threatened” by Tehsildar Hajin Ghulam Mohammad Bhat over the alleged demolition drive in the area.
Later in October that year, Sajjad Gul was summoned at Hajin police station in Bandipora district for questioning in connection with a news report and a video he posted on social media platform ‘X’ (Formerly Twitter).
The article, published in Mountain Ink magazine, and the video had reported the claims of the family members of a 25-year-old man who was killed in a gunfight. The family members had said that Imtiyaz Ahmad Kakroo was innocent and was killed in a “fake encounter” with the police.