Several press bodies have condemned the arrest of Kashmiri journalist Fahad Shah and demanded that he be released immediately.
Shah, the editor-in-chief of news portal The Kashmir Walla, was arrested on February 4 by the Pulwama Police for allegedly posting “anti-national” content on social media. The police had claimed that Shah uploaded the content with criminal intent and to create fear among the public. They also claimed that his posts could lead to disturbance of law and order situation.
In a statement on Sunday, the Editors Guild asked the state authorities to ensure that first information reports, intimidatory questioning, and wrongful detainment was not used as tools for suppressing press freedom.
It said that Shah’s arrest was a part of a larger trend of security forces calling journalists for questioning in Kashmir and often detaining them as they reported critically about the establishment.
“Last month, security forces abetted some journalists in a coup of the Kashmir Press Club management, and then later on state authorities shut down the club completely, reverting the land back to the Estates department,” the Editors Guild said.
Digipub, an association of several media bodies including Scroll.in, in a statement said that there is no indication that Shah was involved in anything that was remotely unlawful.
It said that the police have a record of intimidating Shah, who was detained several times, once even at gunpoint. The association said he is frequently summoned by the police in connection with the articles carried on The Kashmir Walla.
“His house was broken into and at least three FIRs were filed previously against him,” Digipub said. “But Shah resolutely continued his journalism, ensuring stories were balanced and quoted the government point of view as well.”
The press bodies also demanded the release of another The Kashmir Walla journalist, Sajad Gul, who was detained under the Public Safety Act, a preventive detention law, on January 16, a day after a court had given him bail in a criminal conspiracy case.
The journalist first was arrested on January 6 after he posted a video of family members and relatives of Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Salim Parray protesting against his death in a gunfight on the outskirts of Srinagar. The video posted on his Twitter account on January 3 showed women shouting anti-government slogans during the protests.
“The practice of journalism, it would appear, has become a crime in the Union Territory, threatening not just the future of journalism there but democracy itself,” Digipub said. “We unequivocally demand the release of Shah, Gul and a stop to criminalisation of journalism.”
Soon after Shah’s arrest, the Committee to Protect Journalists had also demanded his release.
“The arrest of Fahad Shah shows Jammu and Kashmir authorities’ utter disregard for press freedom and the fundamental right of journalists to report freely and safely,” said Steven Butler, the organisation’s Asia programme coordinator.
He added: “Authorities must immediately release Shah, and all other journalists behind bars, and cease detaining and harassing journalists for simply doing their jobs.”