Srinagar: The Clooney Foundation for Justice — co-founded by renowened lawyer Aman Clooney and actor George Clooney — has decided to monitor the on going trial of award-winning Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan, who has been in jail for over two and a half years and faces the death penalty if convicted.
The Clooney Foundation for Justice, which advocates for justice through accountability for human rights abuses around the world, runs the “TrialWatch” to monitor criminal proceedings around the world, “grades their fairness, and advocates for individuals who are unfairly detained.”
Sultan is a journalist who was working for the Kashmir Narrator magazine in Srinagar. Since August 2018, he has been in jail and is now charged with supporting the Hizbul Mujahideen militant outfit and conspiring to kill a police officer. He faces death penalty.
A spokesperson of the Clooney Foundation, in a statement, noted that the press and human rights organizations believe the charges actually stem from Sultan’s coverage of a Kashmiri militant killed by Indian security forces, whose killing set off anti-government demonstrations in Kashmir in July 2016.
“The indictment cites Sultan’s social media posts and possession of letter pads of the Hizbul Mujahideen in his home as evidence of his involvement with the banned group,” the statement added.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), after CPJ called for Sultan’s release in The Washington Post, the Jammu and Kashmir police responded on Twitter that Sultan was not being held for his work but for “hatching a criminal conspiracy, harbouring and supporting terrorists who martyred a police constable.”
Sultan’s trial is restarting after multiple delays by the State, including absences by key prosecution witnesses, and again after the 2019 revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status.
In recent years, Sultan is one among a number of journalists in Kashmir who have been detained, investigated or prosecuted for their journalism. Today, Sultan has been jailed for over two and a half years in Srinagar’s Central Jail, where COVID cases have been mounting since the summer of 2020.
Sultan’s next bail hearing is scheduled for 26 February 2021.
“International standards favor an accused’s liberty pending trial and proscribe mandatory pretrial detention based on the charged offense,” said the Foundation, while announcing watching his trial. “In particular, these standards require individualized consideration of whether a restriction on liberty is necessary, and, if so, mandate that the least restrictive option be imposed.”
The Clooney Foundation for Justice also called upon the authorities to “ensure that Sultan’s bail hearing is conducted in accordance with international human rights law and any proceedings against him respect his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and to freedom of expression.”