The arrest of Kashmirwalla’s founder and editor Fahad Shah on charges of sedition (IPC 124-A) and terror charges under the repressive and draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, is a chilling sign of the untrammelled powers of the administration to crack down even on the last vestiges of independent media in the Valley.
At least 58 organisations (including Free Speech Collective), have written a letter to Manoj Sinha, Lieutenant Governor, Jammu and Kashmir, demanding the release of Fahad Shah and the withdrawal of all charges against him (scroll down to read letter). The letter also demanded the release of journalism student, Sajjad Gul (arrested since Jan 8, 2022) , Kashmir Narrator journalist, Aasif Sultan ( jailed since August 2018) and freelance photojournalist Manan Gulzar Dar (in custody since October 2021).
Shah was arrested on February 4, 2022 and remanded to ten days police custody. Today, i.e. on February 14, 2022, Shah was remanded to seven more days of police custody. According to a statement from Kashmirwalla, Shah was called to submit a statement in an ongoing investigation launched after The Kashmirwalla published the reports of a gunfight in the south Kashmir district of Pulwama on January 29, 2022.
Shah has been charged with posting “anti-national” content on the social media network Facebook. An FIR lodged by Pulwama police stated that “these Facebook users are uploading such posts which tantamount to glorifying the terrorist activities and causing dent to the image of law enforcing agencies besides causing ill-will & disaffection against the country.”
Ironically, in 2012, in an editorial entitled “Trampling the public voice”, Shah wrote:
“….using social media in Kashmir has become a risk too. There people detained for using Facebook. They were told not to post anything which provokes people. What is provocation? A boy is killed in a locality and someone posts the news on an online medium. This is a provocation? What happened to “freedom of speech” or is that service not available in Kashmir?”
The multimedia news portal, Kashmirwalla, is more than a decade old and its founder editor Fahad Shah has struggled to keep it alive as a chronicle of the culture and politics of Kashmir. Beginning as an online portal to showcase Kashmiri literature and culture, soon coverage was extended to include news and current affairs.
Journalism in Kashmir has been besieged by the state for a considerable period of time and things have got worse following the abrogation of Art 370 in August 2019. A day before, on August 4, 2019, an unprecedented communication shutdown led to a virtual information blackout. Subsequently, there have been severe restrictions on the media, cases have been lodged against several journalists and they are routinely called for questioning and interrogations over their reports. A rigidly controlled media policy has been put into place, crippling print media.
Read the letter to Manoj Sinha, Lieutenant Governor, Jammu and Kashmir:
CPJ, rights groups, and publications call for release of Fahad Shah and other Kashmiri journalists
Dear Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha,
We, the undersigned 58 press freedom organizations, human rights organizations, and publications write to request your urgent intervention to secure the immediate release of Fahad Shah, editor of the online news portal The Kashmir Walla, from jail, and the withdrawal of all police investigations launched into his journalistic work.
On February 4, authorities arrested Shah at the Pulwama police station, where he had been summoned earlier that day for questioning. The first information report states that Shah is being investigated for alleged sedition and making statements causing public mischief, and unlawful activities under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Prior to his arrest, police had questioned Shah regarding The Kashmir Walla’s coverage of a gunfight between government forces and militants.
Shah is well known to many in South Asia and around the world as a journalist of high integrity. His writing for The Nation magazine was recognized at the 2021 Human Rights Press Awards. His reporting on events in Jammu and Kashmir is a public service, not a crime, and should be protected under Indian law.
We also urge you to arrange the immediate release of other detained Kashmiri journalists– Sajad Gul, Aasif Sultan, and Manan Gulzar Dar – all of whom, like Shah, have been jailed under anti-terror or preventative detention laws in apparent retaliation for their work.
Since the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s political autonomy in August 2019, press freedom and rights groups have documented numerous incidents of detentions and threats to journalists in the region. In view of this, the release of Fahad Shah and other arbitrarily detained journalists is a critical step to prevent further criminalization of the profession in Jammu and Kashmir.
We urge you to ensure that authorities drop their retaliatory investigations into all four journalists, withdraw any unwarranted charges brought against them, and allow Kashmiri members of the press to work freely without facing detention, harassment, and other forms of government reprisal.
Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia
Ambedkar King Study Circle
Ambedkar International Center
Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha
Boston South Asian Coalition (BSAC)
Committee Against Assault on Journalists (CAAJ)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Council on Minority Rights in India (CMRI)
C19 People’s Coalition
Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma
Digipub News India Foundation
Forum Against Oppression of Women, Mumbai
Foundation The London Story
Free Press Unlimited
Free Speech Collective
Friends of India, Texas
German Indian Alliance for Peace
Global South Against Xenophobia
Hindus for Human Rights
Human Rights Law Network
Human Rights Watch
The Humanism Project
India Solidarity Germany
Indian American Muslim Council
Indian Federation of Working Journalists (IFWJ)
Indian Journalists Union (IJU)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Press Institute
International Solidarity for Academic Freedom in India (InSAF India)
Jammu and Kashmir Journalists Association (JAKJA)
Journalist Federation of Kashmir (JFK)
Justice for All, Canada
Justice for All, USA
Kashmir Working Journalists Association
Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI)
Overseas Press Club of America
People Against Apartheid and Fascism (PAAF)
Press Club of India
Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Rural Indigenous Health, Boston
Scottish Indians for Justice
Sikh Human Rights Group
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA)
South Asia Media Defenders Network (SAMDEN)
South Asia Peace Action Network (SAPAN)
South Asia Solidarity Group
Read statement by Digipub:
DIGIPUB condemns in the strongest possible terms the shocking arrest of Fahad Shah, Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief of the KashmirWalla.
KashmirWalla one of the few independent media organisations in Kashmir. Shah was arrested on February 4, four days after the police questioned him over a KashmirWalla story about a firefight. The charges against him include sedition and support of terrorism under the UAPA, a law that makes bail very difficult.
There is no indication, nor has there ever been, of any kind that he was involved in anything remotely unlawful. The Jammu and Kashmir police have a record of intimidating Shah, who was first detained in 2017 and other times later, once at gunpoint. He was frequently summoned by the police and questioned over his journalism and the stories KashmirWalla carries.
His house was broken into and at least three FIRs were filed previously against him. But Shah resolutely continued his journalism, ensuring stories were balanced and quoted the government point of view as well. His arrest–and the continued incarceration of his young colleague Sajad Gul under the draconian Public Safety Act last month, right after a court granted bail–reflect a wide-ranging government crackdown on journalists and journalism in Kashmir. Many others have been, and continue to be, raided by the police, threatened, and face a variety of criminal cases.
The practice of journalism, it would appear, has become a crime in the union territory, threatening not just the future of journalism there but Indian democracy itself. We unequivocally demand the release of Shah, Gul and a stop to criminalisation of journalism.