Kashmiri journalist, brother arrested by NIA for ‘terror’, family says ‘baseless charges’

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Sitting with his wife and relatives, distressed Gulzar Ahamd Dar awaits the return of his two sons. On 10 October 2021, 25-year-old Manan Gulzar Dar — Dar’s older son, told his family that he is innocent and he will return home soon.

It has been 18 days, but Manan didn’t return. 

“On October 10 we received a call from Batamaloo police station and were told to produce him [Gulzar] there,” said Dar. “They [police officials] said that the SHO Sahab (Station House Officer) wanted to meet him as he had to ask him something. We thought journalists were being called for questioning and we cooperated.”

Since that day, the family has not seen or spoken to Manan, who is a photojournalist with byline Muhammad Manan, was contributing to Pacific Press, where his last photograph was published only two days before being summoned by the police. On 16 July 2021, one of his photographs was also published in The Guardian’sTwenty photographs of the week’ section.

Three days later, on 13 October, National Investigation Agency (NIA) raided Manan’s residence. Mohsina, his cousin, told The Kashmir Walla that the NIA “didn’t find anything incriminating during the raid rather took away land papers of my Mamu [Uncle].” 

She added that if “the agency had found anything incriminating, they would have photographed that and sent that to the media.”

About the raid on 13 October, the NIA spokesman, in a statement, had said that the NIA conducted searches at 16 locations across Kashmir in relation to the case of “hatching of conspiracy both physically and in cyberspace for undertaking violent militancy acts in J-K.” 

The NIA had registered a case (RC 29/2021/NIA/DLI) on 10 October 2021 and raids were carried out in the process of the investigation. In the last four months, the NIA has conducted 130 raids in Jammu and Kashmir related to “terror funding, anti-national activities or militant related cases.”

However, Manan’s arrest was not mentioned by the NIA on 13 October. 

All this while Dar kept visiting the police station but couldn’t meet his son. A week later, on 17 October, Manan’s younger brother, 23-year-old Hanan Gulzar Dar, was summoned by the police, said Mohsina. Hanan is a student at the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) studying a course in tourism.

“We don’t have any information about him either now,” said Mohsina. “We neither have been allowed to meet them nor do we know where they are.”

On 20 October, NIA confirmed Hanan’s arrest after raids at eleven locations across the valley. It said, in a statement, that “till now, nine accused persons have been arrested in this case by NIA.”

But for the Dar family, there was still no information about Manan. The media reports, quoting the NIA statement, had only named Hanan’s arrest by the agency.  

Two days later, the NIA confirmed, in a statement, that on 22 October during the searches at ten locations across Kashmir eight people were arrested related to “conspiracy for undertaking violent militant acts in Jammu and Kashmir”.

The people arrested were identified as Adil Ahmad War, Manan Gulzar Dar, Hilal Ahmed Dar, Sobia Aziz, Rouf Bhatt, Shaqib Bashir, Zamin Adil, and Haris Nisar Langoo. 

The NIA said that “electronic devices and incriminating jehadi documents/ Posters etc. have been seized today during the searches. The eight accused persons arrested are militant operatives of various militant organisations and have been instrumental in providing logistical and material support to militants.”

Mohsina said that Manan was initially detained in Cargo, a notorious detention center in Srinagar. Dar, the father, said that the family got to know about Hanan’s arrest by the NIA through media reports and the family also had received a call on late evening of 22 October from the NIA informing that Manan also had been arrested by the agency.

“He was later shifted to the Ram Munshi Bagh Police Station for two days – 23-24 October. He was then taken to Delhi that we came to know through a transit remand,” said Mohsina.

As per the transit remand, a copy of which is in possession of The Kashmir Walla, the NIA had sought Manan’s custody on 23 October along with seven other people for five days for their production before NIA special court New Delhi.

The Dar family said they don’t know the reason behind Manan being taken to Delhi. “On what basis was he taken to Delhi?” asked Dar, his father.

However, speaking to The Kashmir Walla, the Inspector General of Police (Kashmir), Vijay Kumar, said that the police have “sufficient technical evidence” against Manan. 

“The photojournalist was working as an OGW [Over Ground Worker] of LeT/TRF top commander Abbas Sheikh. We have sufficient technical evidence against him,” said Kumar. 

Mohammad Abbas Sheikh was the chief of The Resistance Front (TRF), a new outfit that emerged post-August 2019 in Kashmir. He was killed on the evening of 23 August in a brief shootout in Srinagar’s Alochi Bagh area along with his deputy Saqib Manzoor.

Even though the Dar family now knows both the brothers – Manan and Hanan, have been arrested by the NIA, accused of being part of a “conspiracy to carry out terrorist activities,” they say, “The charges against them are baseless”. 

“We know both the sons have been taken to Delhi,” said Dar. “We even cooperated with the police. Manan is a photojournalist, he works for a local paper and also contributes to Pacific Press.”

Last month, the agency also raided the residences of four journalists in connection with the  kashmirfight blog — known for publishing controversial material against prominent Kashmiri figures —  who were later questioned at a police station in Srinagar. In the last two years, several journalists have been summoned, questioned, booked or detained by the police in Kashmir.

Dar added that the police have not told the family anything but only that “the NIA knows, we don’t. We are only asking them to let us meet them. They didn’t allow us to meet them till they were even shifted to Delhi.”

At the time of arrest, the father said, they were wearing summer clothes and since the temperature has been dropping, they are worried for them. 

“We wanted to give them warm clothes as the temperature has been dropping but they are not allowing us to even meet. Don’t we have the right to see our children, give them clothes?” he said.

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