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India 9 August 2006

Kashmiri photographer in prison without evidence or trial for nearly two years

Reporters Without Borders today denounced India’s security services for their persecution of photojournalist Muhammad Maqbool Khokar (better known as Maqbool Sahil), who has been imprisoned since 18 September 2004 under an emergency security law, and called for the country’s journalists to campaign to free him. Requests by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court and the National Human Rights Commission for his release have been ignored.

"The rule of law does not seem to be applied equally in India," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "It is urgent for the authorities in Srinagar and New Delhi to order the security forces to release the journalist, who is the victim of a shameful denial of justice."

The High Court in vain urged the authorities on 8 August 2006, for the second time, to drop charges against him. His friends also fear that if he is released, he would quickly be rearrested.

Sahil, who works for the daily paper Chattan, was arrested by Counter Intelligence Kashmir (CIK) agents in Srinagar, who accused him during interrogation, notably by officer Ashkhoor Wani, of having secret documents and spying for Pakistan by passing on photos of events in Kashmir in recent years.

He was first detained under the Official Secrets Act but has been held since 20 October 2004 under the Public Safety Act (PSA). The Jammu and Kashmir High Court ordered his release on 27 October 2005 but the security services refused to obey. His imprisonment was extended on 9 January 2006 for another two years under the PSA.

Sahil wrote to Reporters Without Borders that he was physically and mentally tortured at the Srinagar interrogation centre in the two weeks after his arrest and had not been allowed to sleep or eat for several days.

The National Human Rights Commission, urged by Reporters Without Borders, recently asked the Jammu and Kashmir police chief why Sahil’s imprisonment was being prolonged, but three weeks after the legal deadline there has been no reply. The journalist’s lawyer has several times pointed to the total lack of evidence in the case-file put together by the security forces.

Sahil, 36, is in prison at Kotbalwal, near Jammu, more than 300 km from his home. His mother, handicapped brother and his five young children have lived in poverty since his arrest.

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