Pulwama, Indian-administered Kashmir – A photojournalist in Indian-administered Kashmir has been released on bail after spending more than six months in jail on charges of “waging war against India” and “stone throwing”.
Kamran Yusuf returned to his hometown on Thursday after a court in the Indian capital, New Delhi, found the state’s case against the 22-year-old freelancer lacked facts.
Rubeen Thahseen, Yusuf’s mother, told Al Jazeera she was jubilant about her son’s return.
“He is innocent … I haven’t slept a single night during all these months,” she said from Tahab village in Pulwama district.
Yusuf was arrested last September by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) after he left for work in Pulwana in southern Kashmir, where a new wave of protests against Indian rule has erupted following the Indian army’s 2016 killing of a young separatist leader.
The International Federation of Journalists said journalists covering Kashmir have “walked the razor’s edge”, working under threats and intimidation from various actors in the conflict.
Yusuf’s arrest marked the first time a Kashmiri journalist was held by the NIA, a body formed to combat “terrorism” in 2009, months after attacks on Mumbai, the Indian financial capital.
The NIA contended Yusuf was not a “real journalist” as he had never covered “any developmental activity of the government” including inaugurations of hospitals, school buildings, roads and bridges.
Justifying his arrest before the court, NIA told judges Yusuf’s mobile number was “persistently located at places where counter-terrorist operations were in progress”.
But the court, in a ruling on Tuesday, said the NIA “has not placed on record a single photo/video showing that the accused was indulging in stone pelting activities at any site”.
Kamran’s work as a photojournalist makes his presence at sites of stone throwing “intrinsic”, the ruling said.
Warisha Farasat, Yusuf’s defence lawyer, said the order was “very welcome and reasoned”.
Human rights groups have previously condemned Yusuf’s arrest, with Amnesty International branding the charges against him “fabricated” and “politically motivated to stifle journalism in Kashmir”.
Yusuf has contributed to several newspapers in Kashmir, including the Srinagar-based newspaper Greater Kashmir.
“He was always first to reach the spot and cover the stories, we have saved all the papers where his pictures have been published,” said Irshad Ahmed, Yusuf’s uncle.
Showkat Nanda, a freelance journalist in the region, told Al Jazeera that journalists have become “easy targets” for the Indian state in Kashmir.
“The situation here is such that anyone can be framed like Kamran. When the narrative goes against the state, they go to any extreme to suppress the voice,” he said.
“No journalist is safe in Kashmir.”