The Srinagar Police has summoned The Kashmir Walla editor Fahad Shah for questioning about the news publication’s coverage of a gunfight in the Nawakadal neighbourhood of downtown Srinagar on May 19. Two militants had been killed in the gunfight, and several houses were destroyed. This is the second time Shah has been questioned on the same matter.
The newspaper condemned the fresh summons, stating that “journalism is not a crime”.
“On 9 July 2020, The Kashmir Walla’s editor received a formal summon from Safakadal police station saying that “your presence is necessary for the purpose of enquiry into the offence committed under section 147, 307, 109, 501, 505 IPC [Indian Penal Code],” the newspaper said in a statement.
The police first questioned Shah on May 20, claiming that the coverage of the gunfight had “defamed” the force. At the time, Shah told the police that the reportage was based on “undisputed facts, eyewitness accounts, interviews of the civilian population, and also the police”. He was allowed to leave the police station after four hours of questioning.
In its statement, The Kashmir Walla said it saw the fresh summons as “yet another attempt to intimidate and silence journalists”.
“As an independent news organisation based in Srinagar, we do not rely on government advertisements and comprise of a small team of committed young professionals who diligently report facts from the ground,” the newspaper said. “We collect facts and cover every side of the story. It is clear that the facts of these stories that we put out were unpalatable to the police authorities who want no fact to be published.”
The newspaper alleged that, over the past few months, the police had shown an “increasing disregard” for the freedom of the press, with authorities unwilling to answer important questions the press raises.
“Our editor Fahad Shah is currently being questioned in the police station,” The Kashmir Walla said. “We ask the authorities to immediately stop this intimidation and allow us to carry on with our professional duties. Journalism is not a crime.”
The Jammu and Kashmir administration had last month released a 53-page document, a new media policy, aimed at “creating a sustained narrative on the functioning of the government in media”. Among other provisions which seek to regulate reporting is a mechanism that empowers the government to decide what is “anti-social and anti-national” news. The policy has faced criticism from for curbing the freedom of the press.
There have also been several instances of police action against journalists from Jammu and Kashmir. On April 18, freelance photojournalist Masrat Zahra was charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for her social media posts. Just three days later, the police filed a case against freelance journalist Gowhar Geelani for “unlawful activities” on social media.