From RSF (31 May, 2010)
Kashmiri journalist was held for 41 months without trial
Reporters Without Borders has interviewed Maqbool Sahil, a journalist based in Srinagar, the summer capital of the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, who was detained for 41 months without trial. Now the incharge editor of the Urdu-language weekly Pukaar, Sahil has spent 19 years covering the conflict in Kashmir, in which thousands have died since 1989.
Arrested in 2004 after covering the rape of an Australian tourist for Chattan, the newspaper he then worked for, he was beaten and tortured during two weeks of interrogation and accused of spying for a Pakistani network. He was nonetheless never tried although Indian law says every detainee must be indicted before a court within 60 days. He decided to resume working as journalist following his release on 9 January 2008.
Sahil wrote seven books while in detention. His prison diary, “Shabistan-e-wajood,” was acclaimed by Reporters Without Borders last year.
RWB: Why were you arrested?
MS: I was detained solely because of my work as a journalist for the weekly Chattan, covering crime and doing investigative reporting. A few days before my arrest, I covered the story of an Australian woman visiting Kashmir who said she was raped by the owner of the houseboat she had been staying on. Almost all the newspapers covered the case but I dug up facts that contradicted the Australian woman’s account and I wrote about this for the weekly.
On 16 September 2004, a few days after my story was published, I was arrested by plain-clothes policemen as I left an army barracks in Srinagar. They bundled me into an unmarked car and took me to the Hari Nivas interrogation centre. There I was told that I had been arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department for being involved in some sort of Pakistani espionage network.
RWB: What were the charges?
MS: I was interrogated and tortured for more than two weeks. They told me charges would be brought against me under the draconian official secrets and espionage laws, charges which carry the death penalty and do not permit release on bail.
RWB: Could you describe the conditions in which you were held for those 41 months?
MS: I was put with criminals such as pickpockets, murderers and robbers and others. During interrogation, they used a wooden roller on my legs, they suspended me from the roof and caned my feet, they regularly beat me and they did many other vicious things to me. Then they increased the intensity of the torture because I was unable to provide them with the information they were seeking about my supposed involvement.
I was so wrecked by the torture that I was unable to stand on my feet. Other detainees used to help me change my clothes and eat.
Meanwhile, CID personnel raided my home three times, taking my computer, books, CDs and diaries, which still have not been returned to me.
I was transferred to Srinagar central jail on 1 October 2004, but a month later I was taken back to the Hari Nivas interrogation centre for more interrogation and the next day I was transferred to Kote Bhalwal Jammu central jail under a two-year Public Safety Act detention order. The High Court quashed the PSA detention order after one year, so I was brought back to Srinagar for more interrogation at the Humhama interrogation centre, another PSA detention order was issued and I was taken back to the Kote Bhalwal jail. This process was repeated four times in 40 months, until January 2008.
In the summer of 2007, I was moved to the Amphalla district jail, where I was kept in an individual, dark cell in the hot summer months of May, June, July and August without a fan or water. I was allowed out of the cell only once every 24 hours to use a latrine. The rest of the time, I had to use a tin can in my cell as a toilet.
RWB: How did all this time in detention affect you?
MS: During those 41 months, I was almost completely cut off from my family. I hardly had any chance to see my children. I saw my mother after two years at the Humhama Interrogation centre. She had grown older and her health had deteriorated. My brother repaired radio and TV sets at home to feed my eight-member family.
RWB: And how did all this affect you as a journalist?
MS: As a journalist, it was very difficult to spend so much time in such a strange and tough place as a jail. I decided to read and write. I also I started studying crime as prisons have all kinds of criminals. I spent my time with Kashmiri detainees, Muslims, Sikhs and Dogras. I was surprised that more than 80 per cent of the inmates insisted on their innocence.
Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has representatives in Bangkok, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has more than 120 correspondents worldwide.
© Reporters Without Borders - 47, rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris - France