Kashmiri photojournalist Manan Dar booked under UAPA gets bail after 438 days

In the bail order, a Delhi Court dismissed the charges against him as "mere assumptions"

Mohammad Manan Dar
Mohammad Manan Dar

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

Mohammad Manan Dar, a Srinagar-based photojournalist who was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), received bail on Tuesday evening after 438 days in jail.

Dar was arrested on October 22, 2021 by the National Investigations Agency (NIA) in connection with a Kashmir militant conspiracy case. In the bail order, a Delhi Court dismissed the charges against him as "mere assumptions."

"Accusations against the accused do not appear to be cogent and true," observed the court.

He was arrested alongside 12 others including his own brother Hanan Dar, in relation to a spree of attacks in Jammu and Kashmir in October 2021 post the abrogation of Article 370.

Dar was arrested days after a number of migrant workers and other laymen were killed in Kashmir by suspected militants. The NIA accused him of orchestrating "terror activities" in the state both physically and digitally.

The court on Monday ruled that NIA's evidence against Manan is "not sufficient" to prove that he was part of terrorist conspiracies in J-K and Delhi and his involvement in the October 2021 killings has not been certified with proof.

In its charge sheet, the NIA, citing images and chats recovered from Manan’s phone, claimed that Dar was working "under the cover of a photojournalist to share details about security forces and their deployment in Kashmir with terrorist organisations."

However, the court citing the Thwaha Fasal vs. Union of India case observed that mere possession of certain posters, banners or other objectionable material is not sufficient to make a case for terrorist activities.

The NIA also alleged that Dar was part of a 'hybrid terrorist cadre' organised to execute small scale attacks such as target killing of minorities, security forces, political leaders and other important persons to create unrest and spread terror.

The defense argued that Dar was "illegally detained" by the NIA and that his arrest was "based on conjectures and devoid of any concrete evidence." In response, the court similarly ruled that the evidence so far gathered by the central agency is "insufficient" to detain the 23-year-old under the UAPA.

Another Kashmiri journalist Jehangir Ali tweeted a video of Dar walking out of Tihar jail, as activists and journalists across the nation continue to about Dar's "illegal detention" and "fake arrest".

"He was released from jail at around 9 pm on Tuesday, January 3, where he was received by a family member in the presence of his lawyers. He is in high spirits and looks forward to continuing his work as a journalist," Dar's family told The Wire. "We will move for Hanan’s bail next," Dar’s cousin told Maktoob Media.

The other suspects held in the militant conspiracy case are Adil Ahmad War, Hilal Ahmed Dar, Rouf Bhatt, Shaqib Bashir, Zamin Adil, Haris Nisar Langoo, Kamran Ashraf Reshi, Rayid Bashir and Suhail Ahmad Thokar.

Earlier this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists joined 57 press freedom organizations, human rights groups, and publications to call for the immediate release of Dar and other detained Kashmiri journalists.

Prior to his arrest, Dar contributed to spaces like Getty Images, Pacific Press International Photo Agency, The Guardian and others as a photojournalist. He covered conflict and social upheavals in Kashmir. He was also selected to join the Integrated Journalism and Mass Communication course at Cluster University, Srinagar in 2022.

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