Six months after arrest, Kashmiri photojournalist returns home on bail
Many friends and relatives of Kashmiri photojournalist Kamran Yousuf dropped by his house in Tahab on Friday morning to offer moral and practical support.
Most of them had not seen him in a while. Yousuf was released on bail only this week, six months after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) booked him along with 11 others last September over his alleged involvement in stone-pelting incidents in the Valley.
He returned to his village in volatile Pulwama district on Thursday night.
The 23-year-old photojournalist was booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail soon after his arrest. Although Yousuf’s well-wishers know that the case against him is far from over, they are happy to just have him around.
Although Yousuf didn’t want to speak to the media, his mother – Rubeena Begum – expressed joy over him receiving bail. “Every mother wants her son to return home. We are very happy, because the six months without him were extremely painful,” she added.
Everybody from village elders to neighbours and Yousuf’s colleagues in the media hailed the decision to let him out on bail. His uncle, Irshad Ahmad, said it vindicated their stand that he was innocent. “We are thankful to everyone who believed in Kamran’s innocence and helped us out,” he added.
Additional sessions judge Tarun Sherawat had stated in the bail order that the NIA did not place “any single photo/video showing that the applicant/accused was involved in stone pelting activities” on record. He also said that the “mere presence of a journalist at the site of an incident is not sufficient to implicate him for the offences that allegedly occurred there”. The NIA charge sheet stated that Yousuf was not a “real journalist” because he had not covered “any developmental activity of the government” in his career.
“We missed him a lot in these six months. Before his arrest, Kamran was one of the best and most active photojournalists among us. We can only imagine what it was for such an active person – who even worked on the day of Eid – to be put behind bars for six months,” said Vikar Syed, fellow-photojournalist and close friend of Yousuf.
According to those familiar with the development, as many as 35 Kashmiri scribes in Delhi helped raise his bail surety.
Yousuf lives with his mother at their residence in Tahab. “Kamran’s mother was completely shattered by his arrest. She refused to eat or drink most of the time. As for us, we missed him like anything,” said Tariq Ahmed, Yousuf’s friend and neighbour.
Yousuf’s arrest had triggered a major controversy, with rights groups such as Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists calling for his exoneration and immediate release. Even Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had urged home minister Rajnath Singh to intervene on the photojournalist’s behalf on Sunday. “I requested him (Singh) to intervene, so the life of a budding journalist does not get ruined,” she tweeted.
Many journalists across Kashmir have demanded that the NIA come clear on the charges against Yousuf.
A banner proclaiming that “Kamran Yousuf is a journalist, not a stone-pelter” was also put up at the Press Enclave in Srinagar.