The High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh has invalidated the detention of Kashmir-based journalist Sajad Ahmad Dar, known by the pen name Sajad Gul, criticizing the authorities' tendency to detain government critics under the guise of preventive detention. Dar had been held under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act since January 16, 2022, based on allegations that his tweets and statements promoted enmity and posed a threat to public order and the state's security.
In its judgment, the High Court strongly condemned the authorities for detaining individuals solely for being government critics, deeming it an abuse of preventive detention laws. The court found the allegations against Dar to be vague and general, lacking specific instances to support the detention. Consequently, the High Court ordered Dar's immediate release.
The division bench, consisting of Chief Justice N. Kotiswar Singh and Justice MA Chowdhary, highlighted that the grounds for detention failed to mention any false reporting or the absence of factual basis in Dar's journalism. The court noted that Dar, a journalism master's degree holder, was fulfilling his professional duty by reporting on events in his area, including those involving security forces. The bench emphasized the absence of specific allegations regarding how Dar's activities could be deemed prejudicial to the state's security.
The court explicitly stated that being a government critic is not a valid reason for detention, asserting that true news reports cannot be considered provocative against the government. The detaining authority's claim that Dar's negative criticism of government policies incited people against the government was deemed insufficient grounds for detention.
Moreover, the bench identified procedural violations in Dar's case. Relevant materials, such as a dossier, FIRs, statements of witnesses, and other documents, were not provided to Dar, impeding his ability to make a proper representation against his detention. The court emphasized that withholding the entire record of three FIRs used to justify preventive detention violated constitutional rights under Article 22(5) of the Constitution.
The police dossier had accused Dar, described as "well educated," of using social media to provoke people against the government. It alleged that he obstructed a Revenue Department encroachment drive in his village, spread false narratives about a security forces encounter, and uploaded a video highlighting "anti-national slogans" after another security forces operation.
The High Court determined that the grounds for detention were vague, and the detaining authority had failed to consider Dar's bail grant in one of the cases. The court deemed the detention order unsustainable, emphasizing that the detaining authority had not applied its mind before curtailing Dar's liberty, a right protected under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
In conclusion, the High Court's decision to quash Sajad Ahmad Dar's detention underscored the importance of upholding constitutional rights, particularly the right to liberty and freedom of the press. The judgment criticized the abuse of preventive detention laws and highlighted the need for specific and valid grounds for detaining individuals, especially when they are government critics.
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