Sunday, April 21, 2024

Kashmiri journalist Fahad Shah completes 500 days in prison

Fahad Shah, a prominent Kashmiri journalist, on Sunday, completed 500 days of incarceration under draconian charges.

On 4 February last year, Shah, the founder-editor of The Kashmir Walla, was arrested by the Pulwama police under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) law for allegedly posting anti-national content on social media. Later, over the course of four months, he was detained five times.

In the last 17 months, Shah has secured three bails, including two in UAPA cases, and the Public Safety Act (PSA) order has been quashed, but he is still imprisoned in connection with a case brought about by an opinion piece Shah’s newspaper published in 2011.

On 5 March 2022, a Shopian court magistrate granted Shah bail, and later, Srinagar police arrested him once more in connection with news reporting for his news portal.  Shah was then placed in the Kupwara Jail on 14 March 2022, and detained under the PSA.

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court overturned the Public Safety Act (PSA) order against Shah in April 2023, calling the imprisonment “illegal” and the “non-application of mind” on behalf of detaining authorities. 

Stating that the journalist’s imprisonment “illegal”, the court said: A mere apprehension of a breach of law and order is not sufficient to meet the standard of adversely affecting the “maintenance of public order”. “In this case, the apprehension of a disturbance to public order owing to a crime that was reported over seven months prior to the detention order has no basis in fact.”

It said that the apprehension of an adverse impact to public order “is a mere surmise of the detaining authority, especially when there have been no reports of unrest since the detainee was released on bail on 8 January 2021 and detained with effect from 26 June 2021”. 

The court decided that Shah was the target of “grave” charges. “However, the personal liberty of an accused cannot be sacrificed on the altar of preventive detention merely because a person is implicated in a criminal proceeding,” the order read. “The powers of preventive detention are exceptional and even draconian.” 

On 20 May 2022, the State Investigation Agency (SIA) arrested Shah for questioning in a case while he was being detained at Kupwara Jail in north Kashmir under the PSA.

In order to investigate the SIA’s FIR number 01/2022, which was filed at the Joint Interrogation Centre in Jammu in opposition to an opinion piece written by Abdul Aala Fazili, a scholar from Kashmiri University, and published 11 years ago in The Kashmir Walla with the title “The Shackles of Slavery Will Break”, Shah’s custody was taken from the Kupwara jail.

As a result of Shah’s imprisonment, several members of Kashmir’s battered journalism community went into hiding or quit their jobs. 

A senior journalist, speaking with Maktoob on the condition of anonymity fearing reprisal from the government, said, “It’s unfortunate that journalists are being targeted. Over the years, journalism in Kashmir has been facing a lot of problems. From summons, and harassment to arrests for doing our job, we faced it all.”

“I hope, they release Fahad and other journalists soon. Justice should prevail,” added the journalist.

According to a well-known press watchdog, the United States (US) government should urge Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to release six journalists who were “arbitrarily detained in retaliation for their work”.

In a statement issued on Wednesday in advance of Modi’s state visit to the White House the following week, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that journalists who were critical of the Indian government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been jailed, harassed, and monitored.

CPJ’s president Jodie Ginsberg said in the statement said: “India is the world’s largest democracy and it needs to live up to that by ensuring a free and independent media – and we expect the United States to make this a core element of discussions.”

Six journalists were demanded to be released by the CPJ, four of which are from the Kashmir region: Aasif Sultan, Sajad Gul, Fahad Shah, and Irfan Mehraj. 

Shah is being tried for a 2011 piece that was published by his online magazine, The Kashmir Walla, according to the press freedom group, who claimed that they had been “targeted under draconian security laws.” The other five journalists are still being held pending trial, the CPJ claimed.

According to the watchdog, 62 journalists have been killed in India because of their jobs since 1992, and the nation was ranked 11th on its “impunity index” last year.

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