Court grants bail to Kashmiri photojournalist accused of plotting terror strikes

Dar was in jail since October 22, 2021.

New Delhi: A Delhi Court has granted bail to a 25-year-old Kashmir-based photojournalist accused of plotting terrorist acts in Kashmir and major cities in India, saying the allegation made by the NIA “does not appear to be cogent and true”.

Additional Sessions Judge Shailender Malik granted relief to Mohd Manan Dar in a case lodged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the IPC.

“Upon analysis of entire evidence and at least for the purpose of disposal of bail application it can be observed that accusation against the accused does not appear to be cogent and true,” the judge said in the order passed on Monday.

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Dar was in jail since October 22, 2021.

The NIA had alleged Dar was conspiring, both “physically and in cyberspace”, for undertaking violent terrorist acts in Kashmir and across major cities in India.

The judge said even if it is accepted that the investigation revealed a new form of ‘hybrid cadre’ of terrorist or undercover cadre/terrorists doing terrorist activity, assisting proscribed terrorist organization discreetly whereas ostensibly carrying on legitimate activities like advocate, journalist etc., “however one must note that such allegation must be supported by direct evidence of any such activities”.

“Mere assumptions or incomplete evidence to establish such facts may not be sufficient Therefore taking into account all these evidence on face of it, it would be enough to observe for the purpose of bail application that such evidence do not connect or are not sufficient to indicate accused being part of conspiracy or other charges,” the judge said.

On the allegation that Dar shared images of security forces and their deployment under the cover of being a photojournalist, the court held that a perusal of extracted data of his mobile phone would show that while there are Telegram messages and images, they do not indicate the same were sent by him.

“No doubt there is indirect reference showing share of links of other smaller, private messaging applications like Tam Tam, Nand messenger etc. to avoid detection of the messages. Similarly, there is also WhatsApp chat retrieved in which there is one message enquiring as to whether there is Hanan or Manan.
“However such messages, chat etc. may not be sufficient at least, at this stage, to show that accused sent message or was part of chat,” the court said.

It also observed there is no evidence to show that Dar shared any photograph or image of security forces or about their deployment with any individual or organisation at any point of time.

The NIA had alleged that Dar was working as an over ground worker of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and its off-shoot ‘The Resistance Front’, and “knowingly entered into a conspiracy with terrorist commanders based across the border as well as active terrorists in the valley” to “assist unrest”.

Dar had claimed he was a freelance photojournalist who has covered news and conflict in Kashmir and contributed to agencies like Getty Images.

The NIA had alleged Dar and other accused were associated with online groups and were acting as “hybrid cadres” on behalf of the proscribed terrorist organisations.

The anti-terror probe agency said the matter has national ramifications as it posed a direct threat to the security of the country.

There is a danger that Dar may abscond across the border and influence witnesses, if released, the agency told the court while opposing his bail plea.

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