Criticism of government and sharing videos of militants not valid grounds of detention under PSA: J&K and Ladakh HC

While quashing the detention of 24-year-old journalist Sajad Ahmad Dar alias Sajad Gul, the Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh High Court held that it was his professional duty to report the happenings in his area, including the operations of the security forces.

IN a development that could have a ripple effect on the crackdown on journalism in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the J&K and Ladakh High Court quashed the preventive detention under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978 of journalist Sajad Ahmad Dar earlier this month.

The court termed the detention of the 24-year-old on account of criticising the policies of the government as a misuse of the preventive detention law. Dar had been placed under preventive detention on January 14, 2022.

A division Bench of Chief Justice N. Kotiswar Singh and Justice M.A. Chowdhary held that Dar’s being a critic of the policies of the government and the fact that his tweets could provoke people against the government were not valid grounds to detain him under the preventive detention Act.

Observing that “a true and factual media report can provoke people against the working of the government” the court pointed out that the government had failed to show “specific instances as to how his tweets had caused any problem, much less public order problems with the government”.

The case of the police was that Dar used social media as a tool to provoke people against government establishments, made controversial tweets and statements on social media. Dar was accused of being a journalist who promoted enmity and ran the Twitter (now X) account @SajadGul for nefarious designs.

It was also submitted by police that Dar had been previously detained in a number of criminal cases, however, he had not deterred himself from “anti-national” activities.

The grounds of detention revealed that three first information reports (FIRs) had been registered against Dar at the police station, Hajin.

In the first FIR, Dar was shown to have created obstacles in the anti-encroachment drive of the revenue department in his native village on December 14, 2021.

In the second FIR, he was shown to have tweeted against the Union of India on October 16, 2021 from his Twitter account @SajadGul_, thereby “spreading false and fake narrative of a terrorist operation which was carried out in Gund Jahangeer and in which one local terrorist, namely, Imtiyaz Ahmad Dar, was eliminated and, thus, tried to agitate people against the security forces”.

In the third FIR, Dar was alleged to have uploaded a video on social media highlighting “anti-national” slogans raised by the people on January 13, 2022 in the house of a “most wanted terrorist, namely, Saleem Parray, eliminated in an encounter at Shalimar, Srinagar”.

Before going into whether the activities mentioned in the three FIRs warranted detention under the PSA, the Bench noted that Dar was not provided with the whole of the record germane to the detention Order.

The Bench said that Dar was not provided with the copies of the dossier, FIRs, statements of witnesses and other related documents relied upon by the detaining authority.

In absence of providing the whole of the documentary record, the detenu 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 Bench held.

On the grounds of detention, the Bench ruled that there was no specific allegation against Dar as to how his activities could be attributed to be prejudicial to the security of the State.

The detaining authority itself has admitted that the detenu, having done masters in journalism, was working as a journalist (media reporter) and it was his professional and occupational duty to report the happenings in his area, even including the operations of the security forces.

Such a tendency on the part of the detaining authority to detain the critics of the policies or commissions and omissions of the government 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 Bench held.

Ultimately the Bench declared the detention Order to be based on vague grounds, not sustainable in law and proceeded to quash it for being violative of Article 21 of the Constitution.

Read the Order here.

The Leaflet