The subscription model used by digital media platforms to generate revenue can be used by “unscrupulous elements” to pump money and create trouble in Jammu and Kashmir, the State Investigation Agency has said in its chargesheet filed against journalist Fahad Shah and academician Abdul Aala Fazili, The Indian Express reported on Thursday.

Shah and Fazili were arrested last year in connection with the publication of an article titled “The Shackles of Slavery Will Break”. The article was written by Fazili and published in 2011 on the news website The Kashmir Walla, the editor-in-chief of which is Shah.

The State Investigation Agency claimed that the article was found to be “against national integration and supported the claim of secession of a part of the country’s territory”.

A special National Investigation Agency court framed charges against Shah and academician Fazili on March 18. In its chargesheet filed in October, the State Investigation Agency alleged that The Kashmir Walla operates on a subscription model in which readers pay to access the website’s content.

“Unscrupulous elements can utilise this route to fund an entity to foment trouble in a region and carry out propaganda in its own interest,” the chargesheet alleged, adding that “this part is under investigation”.

The agency claimed that Shah had received funds totaling Rs 95.59 lakh, reported The Indian Express.

The chargesheet alleged that in 2020-’21, one of the bank accounts used by Shah received foreign funding of Rs 10.59 lakh from Reporters sans frontieres, or Reporters Without Borders, a global non-profit press body.

It alleged that another of Shah’s accounts received about Rs 58 lakh, out of which Rs 30 lakh was foreign contribution through subscription payment.

“Reporters Sans Frontiers, also popularly called as Reporters Without Borders is an organisation which supports press freedom all over the world, while in reality the entity is involved in subverting the democratic freedoms all over the world,” the chargesheet alleged.

The investigation agency said it had sent an e-mail to Reporters Without Borders seeking clarity on the matter, but the press body did not respond.

However, Reporters Without Borders told The Indian Express that it was awaiting a formal notification from the State Investigation Agency or any other relevant authority.

“It seems that SIA officials are not very comfortable with the elements involving RSF in their chargesheet,” it said.

About the allegations, the organisation said that it was “strange” for such an agency with special police powers “that has little regard for human rights” to accuse a non-governmental organisation of “subverting democratic freedoms”.

“Our mandate is precisely to defend press freedom as a guarantee for democracy,” it told The Indian Express. “The methodology we use for the World Press Freedom Index is perfectly transparent and available on our website. The aim of RSF’s work is not to be critical of any particular country, but to provide an accurate picture of press freedom in each country.”

Reporters Without Borders has been publishing the World Press Freedom Index since 2002. In the latest rankings in 2022, India had slipped to the 150th position from 133rd in 2016.

Charges against Shah and Fazili

The two have been charged under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act’s section 13 (unlawful activity) and 18 (conspiracy, advocating, abetting, inciting, facilitating a terrorist act or any preparation to commit a terrorist act).

Fazili, an academician from the Kashmir University, has also been booked under sections 121 (abetting waging of war against government of India), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence) of the Indian Penal Code.

Shah has been charged under sections 121 and 153-B of the Indian Penal Code and Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act’s sections 35 (accepting foreign contribution in contravention of provisions of FCRA, or any order or rule therein) and 39 (violation of FCRA by a company tantamount to contravention by the persons in charge or responsible for business of such company).