Fahad Shah, editor of The Kashmir Walla, who has faced multiple charges since his initial arrest on February 4, was sentenced under Jammu and Kashmir’s Public Safety Act (PSA) on March 14, which allows up to two years detainment without trial. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Indian affiliate, the Indian Journalists Union (IJU), condemn continued legal harassment under the draconian PSA, and urge the region’s administration to immediately drop all charges against him.
The journalist was first arrested on February 4, 2022, by Pulwama district police under Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and Sections 124-A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code, and held for 22 days. Police were allegedly investigating a Facebook post , Shah published regarding a gunfight in Naira village on January 30.
Shah was granted bail by the National Investigation Court on February 26, but was rearrested by Shopian district police the same day under a separate case filed on January 30, 2021. The case related to the Kashmir Walla’s publishing of a news report concerning the Indian Army’s pressure on a Shopian’s private school to hold a Republic Day Celebration. Shah was granted bail for this second case on March 5.
Hours after he was released on bail for the second time, Shah was again arrested by Srinagar district police in connection with a second Kashmir Walla report on a gunfight in May, 2020, where security forces allegedly looted cash and jewellery. The case was filed by Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) police in May 2020 under Sections 109 (abetment), 147 (rioting), 307 (attempt to murder), 501 (printing defamatory matter), and 505 (public mischief), of the Indian Penal Code.
J&K police invoked the PSA against Shah on March 11, a day before the scheduled hearing of the third case against him. The PSA allows J&K police to detain any person without charges for up to two years. Shah’s lawyer, Umair Ronga, said that PSA was being used to prolong his custody and to prevent the journalist from returning to his work.
The J&K region has seen an intensification of attempts to silence critical voices within the media, with attacks, arrests, intimidation, and legal harassment widespread since August 5, 2019, when the Indian Government revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which acknowledged the special status of the J&K state.
IJU president, Geetartha Pathak, said: “The IJU is enraged at the multiple arrests of Fahad Shah for his reporting. We demand the immediate release of Mr Shah.”
The IFJ said: “The cycle of arbitrary arrests and charges against Fahad Shah is evidence of the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s misuse of its draconian laws to silence critical voices and quash press freedom. The IFJ urges the authorities to drop all charges the journalist, release him immediately, and work to repeal any legislation that stifles media freedom in the region.”