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Jailed Kashmiri Journalist Fahad Shah Booked Under Stringent PSA

Anees Zargar |
Fahad Shah, the editor of The Kashmir Walla, was slapped with PSA after court granted him bail in two cases and a bail was expected in a third case.
How Kashmir, Pakistan and Secularism are Interconnected

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Srinagar: Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have booked journalist Fahad Shah under the controversial Public Safety Act (PSA) on Monday, ending chances of his immediate release that many global media bodies and rights groups have been demanding since he was first arrested on February 4.

Shah’s lawyer Umair Ronga confirmed that the editor of The Kashmir Walla was slapped with PSA after court granted him bail in two cases and a bail was expected in a third case since February.

Sensing that the Hon’ble Special Court may grant the bail as the allegations levelled against the accused do not prima facie connect him with the commission of any offence, the authorities have taken recourse to the J&K Public Safety Act,” Ronga said

The 33-year-old was first arrested on February 4 by police in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district. He was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, but was granted bail by a court after 22 days. Shah was accused of "glorifying" militancy and "inciting" people to create a law and order situation.

He was, however, rearrested by police from Shopian District in a separate case in which he was given bail as well. However, the police in Srinagar arrested him again in another case for his reportage on an incident from May 2020 in The Kashmir Walla. The charges against Shah include offences under Sections 147 (rioting), 307 (attempt to murder), 109 (abetment), 501 (printing or engraving defamatory matter) and 505 (public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Shah’s colleagues, who have met him after his arrest, say that he is under a “lot of pressure”. His family met him for the first time on Monday after they heard reports of his detention under the PSA.

According to Shah’s brother Aqib, the journalist was hopeful about his release this time but was shocked to know about the PSA slapped against him on Monday. “When he heard the news, he was in shock. Then he met with the family. He is currently in Soura police station and did not expect a law like PSA will be used against him. He may be shifted from here soon,” Aqib told NewsClick.

My younger brother’s case is an outrageous, intolerable example of judicial harassment modelled to silence a journalist. The insane charges brought against Fahad Shah over news reports must be dismissed at once,” Aqib had tweeted earlier.

Many international journalist bodies, media watchdogs, and prominent publications have called for Shah’s immediate release and termed his detention as part of the larger crackdown on journalists reporting from the region. Situation for media in Kashmir has worsened in the past few years with an increase in cases of threat, intimidation, harassment, and summoning of journalists to police station. The police have carried raids on the homes of at least four journalists and confiscated their electronic gadgets including mobile phones, laptops and those belonging to their other family members as well.

Shah is the second journalist in Kashmir to have been booked under the PSA. Earlier, his colleague and a budding journalist Sajad Gul was arrested and booked under the law raising concern among other journalists in the valley. Gul was also arrested a day after a court granted him bail in connection with a police case that accused him of criminal conspiracy.

Shah has reported on politics and human rights abuses in conflict-torn Kashmir for over a decade in various international reputed publications including TIME, Atlantic, The Guardian, Christian Science Monitor, and Foreign Affairs. He studied at London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and established The Kashmir Walla, which has gained prominence in the digital news space in the region.

Last week, the Press Council of India (PCI) in a detailed report on the situation of media in the union territory claimed that news media in the region, especially in the Kashmir valley, is “slowly being choked” due to extensive curbs imposed by the administration. India was ranked 142nd in the global press freedom index last year by Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. The Indian government has, however, rejected these conclusions.

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