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Media Rights Groups Write to LG Manoj Sinha for Release of Jailed Journalists

Anees Zargar |
The media bodies also called for the withdrawal of all police investigations launched into Fahad’s journalistic work.
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File Photo.

Srinagar: As many as 58 press freedom organisations, human rights organisations and other globally reputed publications have called for the immediate release of Kashmiri journalists who authorities have arrested in the region.

The organisations have sent a letter to Jammu and Kashmir UT's Lt Governor Manoj Sinha, urging him to intervene and secure the release of journalists, including Fahad Shah, the editor of the news website Kashmir Walla, arrested on February 4.

The media bodies also called for the withdrawal of all police investigations launched into Fahad’s journalistic work. Shah was arrested at the Pulwama police station, where he had been summoned earlier that day for questioning. The FIR against Shah, 33, included charges of sedition and making statements causing public mischief and severe provisions of unlawful activities under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

“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 recognised 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," the letter to LG read.

The signatories also urged LG Sinha to arrange the “immediate release” of other detained Kashmiri journalists including Sajad Gul, Aasif Sultan, and Manan Gulzar Dar – all of whom, like Shah, have been jailed under anti-terror or preventative detention laws, the letter said, in “apparent retaliation for their work.”

Gul, who worked under Shah, was arrested earlier in January and later shifted to jail after being slapped with the controversial Public Safety Act (PSA). Sultan remains in Srinagar central jail after he was arrested and booked under UAPA in 2018.

“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. Given this, the release of Fahad Shah and other arbitrarily detained journalists is a critical step to prevent further criminalisation of the profession in Jammu and Kashmir," the signatories said.

The groups urged LG Sinha to allow Kashmiri members of the press to work freely without facing detention, harassment, and other forms of government reprisal.

Amongst those who have signed the letter include Ambedkar International Center, Committee Against Assault on Journalists (CAAJ), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma Digipub, International Press Institute, Jacobin, Justice for All, USA, PEN America, Press Club of India, Pulitzer Center, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA).

The police on Monday extended Shah’s remand by seven days, the TKW website reported. Shah’s legal team will now move to a special court designated under National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act to secure his bail.

“Complete wilful disobedience to court orders. Despite directions, no report was filed even after seven days. We are moving to the special court designated under the NIA Act to uphold the majesty of the law. Arbitrary actions by police are an impediment of justice to innocent people," his lawyer Umair Ronga was quoted as saying.

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