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HC Quashes Journalist Fahad Shah’s Detention Under J&K Public Safety Act

Anees Zargar |
The Court observed that no compelling reasons had been recorded by the detaining authority while passing the detention order against the 34-year-old Kashmiri journalist.
J&K High court

Representational use only.Image Courtesy: Livelaw

Srinagar: The High Court of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh has quashed the detention order of Kashmiri journalist Fahad Shah, who was arrested in February last year, saying that he is “set at liberty forthwith if not required in any other case.”

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,” Judge Wasim Sadiq Nargal said.

The counsel had argued that Shah has been found involved in various “anti-national nefarious activities” and was, accordingly, detained under Jammu and Kashmir PSA, 1978. “The detenue has a criminal bent of mind which is evident from his conduct over a period of time, and has been found indulging in anti-national/nefarious activities in order to disturb the public peace and order, prejudicial to the maintenance of public order, for which, sufficient material was received to detain the detenue under Jammu and Kashmir PSA, 1978,” the government argued.

Shah, arrested last year on February 4 in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district, was booked under the controversial Public Safety Act (PSA) in March. He was also booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, for allegedly "glorifying" militancy and "inciting" people to create a law and order situation.

The Court observed that no compelling reasons had been recorded by the detaining authority while passing the detention order against the 34-year-old journalist. “In absence of any compelling reasons, the order of detention cannot sustain the test of law,” the court said.

The editor of a decade-old newspaper based in Kashmir – The Kashmir Walla – Shah reported for various Delhi-based and international news publications, including The Foreign Affairs, The Guardian, Time, Atlantic and Christian Science Monitor (CSM) after graduating from London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

He is currently lodged in a jail in Jammu.

His arrest has been widely condemned by global media organisations, media rights groups and watchdogs that have also warned about a sharp decline of press freedom in Jammu and Kashmir.

Shah is amongst four other Kashmiri journalists jailed by the authorities. Journalist Asif Sultan has been serving detention since 2018, while young journalist Sajad Gul, who worked briefly with Shah, was arrested in January last year.

In March, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested 32-year-old Irfan Mehraj in a case involving the prominent human rights group, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), where Mehraj had worked as a researcher. His arrest stirred widespread condemnation, with many arguing that there is little space left for journalism.

A year after Shah was arrested, at least seven editors from reputed international news organisations, including The Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy, The Nation and Foreign Affairs, issued a joint statement calling for his release.

Mr. Shah’s case is a sharp reminder of the need to strengthen free voices as efforts to shut them down intensify daily around the globe. His release is particularly important to the cause of free press in Kashmir,” the joint statement said.

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