The IPI global network calls for the immediate release of Kashmir journalist Fahad Shah, who was arrested by police on February 4 after reporting on a fatal police raid in late January. IPI strongly condemns the authorities’ actions and demands an end to the arrest of journalists in Indian-administered Kashmir.

On February 4, Fahad Shah, the editor of The Kashmir Walla, was arrested by Pulwama police after being summoned four days prior over the outlet’s coverage of a police raid that left four dead. Police described three of those killed as militants and one as a “hybrid militant”. The Kashmir Walla interviewed a member of the victim’s family, who said he was innocent and wanted the government to return his body.

When the police arrested Shah, they released a statement saying that he “uploaded anti-national content” and was in their custody. Inspector General Vijay Kumar told the press that Shah was “arrested on the basis of one of the three first information reports lodged against him for frequently glorifying terrorism, spreading fake news, and instigating people, for the past three to four years”. He has two other cases lodged against him, one in Srinagar in 2020 and another in Shopian in 2021.

The Kashmir Walla released a statement on February 5, writing that Shah has cooperated with the police investigation since he had been summoned on January 31, and if convicted, could face life imprisonment. Shah was charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which is an anti-terrorism law.

Shah recently spoke to IPI for a feature about the deteriorating conditions for journalists in Kashmir. He said that local journalists, including himself, put themselves at a major risk when reporting on the government and protests. He said the risk was particularly high in his case since he writes for publications in the U.S. and U.K.

“IPI strongly condemns the arrest of Fahad Shah and we call for his immediate release and the dropping of all charges against him”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Shah’s arrest is further evidence of the growing crackdown on independent journalism in Kashmir. Authorities must urgently restore media freedom and stop the abuse of national security and related laws to intimidate, harass, and detain journalists just for doing their jobs.

Griffen also reiterated IPI’s call for the release of Sajad Gul, a contributor to the The Kashmir Walla who was detained in early January.

Spiralling crackdown

A terrorist act is defined by the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act as “any act with intent to threaten or likely to threaten the unity, integrity, security, or sovereignty of India”. The term of imprisonment for those convicted must not be less than five years, according to the law.

According to The Kashmir Walla’s statement, Shah has had a severe cough and fever since January 31. They hoped he would be taken care of properly.

“The team stands in solidarity with Shah and his family at this time of distress and remains committed to providing reliable and on-ground reporting from Kashmir and appeals to Manoj Siha-led Jammu and Kashmir administration for the immediate release of Shah and Gul”, the statement said.

Sajad Gul is another journalist from The Kashmir Walla who was arrested on January 5. He was charged under the draconian Public Safety Act because of his social media posts from his coverage of a protest. He is still detained in Kot Bhalwal prison in Jammu.

The Editors Guild of India condemned the arrest of Shah and wrote in a statement on Feb. 6 that the recent arrests are a part of a larger trend of the deterioration of press freedom in Indian-administered Kashmir. According to the Editors Guild, journalist Gowhar Geelani has also been summoned by the police to appear in court on February 7.

“The space for media freedom has progressively eroded in Kashmir”, the Guild’s statement says. “The Guild urges the state administration to respect democratic values and stop the harassment of journalists in the name of national security.”

Shah’s arrest also comes after the Jammu and Kashmir government shut down the Kashmir Press Club, leaving journalists without a place to convene. Journalists in Indian-administered Kashmir have been severely restricted since India stripped Kashmir of its autonomous status in 2019 and divided the region into two union territories. The government placed severe restrictions on the internet and arrested journalists, politicians, and activists.