Court grants bail to Kashmiri journalist, bars him from using VPN, sharing WiFi

The scribe was jailed in 2018 on several charges under sections of the UAPA and the Ranbir Penal Code and faced allegations of “providing logistical support” to militants

Updated - May 15, 2024 09:56 pm IST

Published - May 15, 2024 09:19 pm IST - SRINAGAR

A group of Journalists held a protest while demanding the release of their colleague Asif Sultan in Srinagar on September 10, 2018. File

A group of Journalists held a protest while demanding the release of their colleague Asif Sultan in Srinagar on September 10, 2018. File | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

A special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court has granted a conditional bail to journalist Asif Sultan in Srinagar and barred him from using encrypted messaging application or virtual private network (VPN) on mobile phone and directed to notify police about his new mobile phone or SIM card.  

“Having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case...i.e. the accused has been in the custody from the last 72 days, the fact that the recovery has been made from the place of occurrence and sent to FSL and most of investigation has been completed, the interest of justice will be served in case the applicant is admitted to bail, at this stage,” the NIA court observed.

Mr. Sultan worked as assistant editor with the magazine, Kashmir Narrator. He was released in February this year after more than five years of jail and was immediately re-arrested by the J&K Police in a separate case in Srinagar.

The court has asked Mr. Sultan to “furnish bail bond to the tune of ₹1 lakh” in the case. It has set 11 conditions for the bail, which include that “the accused shall not misuse liberty nor shall get in touch with any of the witnesses or try to influence the course of investigation”.

“The accused shall neither use any secret/encrypted messaging apps or any proxy network [viz VPNS] to remain anonymous and circumvent provisions of India Telegraph Act and Indian Wireless Act and orders/restrictions issued there under nor provide any type of telecommunication facility from his number or device to other person through hotspot, WiFi etc,” the court held.

It asked the accused to “disclose the details of the cell phone device to be used by him (IMEI number and make MI, Samsung, Oppo etc.) to the investigating officer/ SHO of the concerned police station.

“The accused person shall not use any mobile number or device other than the ones disclosed to the Investigating Officer/SHO of the concerned police station. In case the accused wants to buy another mobile handset or a new SIM Card in the event of damage, loss theft or to upgrade, he shall seek prior permission from this court and shall furnish the information to the IO (Investigation Officer) of the case/SHO of concerned police station,” the court directed.

The court also barred the journalists from “leaving the territorial jurisdiction of this court without prior permission of the court”. “The accused shall not change his residence during the period of bail, without informing this court,” it added.

The scribe was jailed in 2018 on several charges under sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Ranbir Penal Code and faced allegations of “providing logistical support” to militants. However, the court quashed his detention under the PSA last year, while observing that it was “illegal” and the charges “unsustainable.” Sultan has been in jail under the PSA since April 5, 2022.

Mr. Sultan was re-arrested in February this year in a fresh case. A police report suggested that he faced the allegations that on April 4, 2019, the accused along with other jail inmates in the Central Jail Srinagar “set ablaze a few barracks, shouted anti-national slogans and pelted stones on jail employees due to which some officials sustained injuries.” The charges were refuted by the accused. 

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