Fahad Shah; The journalist imprisoned in another jail within a prison (Kashmir) by Indian Govt!

Rejaz M Sheeba Sydeek

Journalism in the most militarized zone in the world, Kashmir, is a herculean task especially when “Press Freedom” guaranteed by the Indian government is a joke. According to the World Press Freedom Index, India’s ranking is 150th out of 180 countries. So just imagine the crumbs of press freedom available in the region where the collective conscience of Kashmiris demands freedom from India. The cost of arming up with cameras and pens against the mercenaries, bureaucrats and politicians of the Indian government who exploits Kashmiris is incarceration for a prolonged period.

Fahad Shah will be one of the most targeted young journalists in the valley by the government of the largest pseudo-democratic country in the world. Founding Editor of the digital news magazine, The Kashmir Walla, 33-year-old Fahad is in jail since February 4 2022. He was arrested 4 times in 40 days and got slapped with 3 UA(P)A, Sedition and PSA in 60 days. Three separate FIRs are filed against him and the accusations against him are “glorifying terrorism, spreading fake news, and inciting the general public against law and order”.

Pulwama police first arrested him on February 4 2022 under UA(P)A, Sedition and 505 of the IPC for publishing a report against an encounter in which a teenage boy was murdered along with three suspected militants in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. He secured interim bail on February 26 2022 from NIA special court in Srinagar.

But on the same day, he got re-arrested by Imamsahib police, Shopian under Sections 153 (provocation to cause riot) and 505 (public mischief) of IPC in a case registered against a report published in January 2021 for allegedly spreading fake news. The report published in TWA says an army unit forced a private school to hold Republic Day celebrations on January 26 in Shopian. The case was registered based on a complaint by the army.

On March 05 2022, Fahad secured bail in the second case but got again arrested in the evening for the third time in a month. This time the arrest was recorded by Safakadal police, Srinagar for allegedly glorifying terrorism based on TWA’s reporting of an encounter in May 2020. In that report, TWA states that 19 houses were razed down, and the cash and jewellery of civilians were looted by the army after two suspected militants and three civilians were killed by them. Sections 109 (abetment), 147 (rioting), 307 (attempt to murder), 501 (printing defamatory matter) and 505 (public mischief) of the IPC were initially charged against Fahad but later 109, 147, and 307 were removed.

On March 11 2022, UA(P)A was again slapped against him on the 37th day of his arrest in the third case. On March 14 2022, he was arrested for the fourth time under Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA). PSA allows the authorities to incarcerate individuals in custody without trial for up to two years. According to the PSA dossier, Fahad was having radical ideology from his childhood. Being a prominent journalist by profession, his approach has been based on creating a rift between the groups of law-abiding masses. On April 5 2022, Fahad was booked under the UA(P)A for the third time for publishing the article, “The Shackles of Slavery Will Break”.

This is not the first time that Fahad was targeted or harassed by the Indian state. In July 2018, a teargas shell was fired at Fahad’s house and his car was also vandalized by the Paramilitary. Fahad who is presently lodged at Kot Bhalwal jail is a recipient of the 25th Human Rights Press Award (2021) and was also nominated for the RSF Press Freedom Prize for Courage. Other than Fahad, Sajad Gul and Aasif Sultan are the other two Kashmiri journalists who are presently in jail for exposing the state terror.

American National Press Club’s Press Freedom Awardee, Aasif Sultan is in jail since August-28-2018. He was awarded bail on April 5 2022 after spending 1316 days in jail under UA(P)A, but got arrested on the same day under PSA. A colleague of Fahad and a trainee reporter at the Kashmir Walla, Sajad Gul is in jail under PSA since January 5 2022.

According to Human Rights Watch, between 2019 and 2022, at least 35 journalists in Kashmir were subjected to police interrogation, raids, threats, physical assault or criminal cases. After the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status, the offices of the “Kashmir Times” newspaper and “Kashmir News Service” were forcibly closed by the Government. Last year, the Kashmir Press Club, the largest elected journalists’ body in the valley tasted the wrath of the government after it was sealed. The internet restrictions and other technical suppression by the state affect them on one side and the other side, they are incarcerated by the state for sharing the truth to the world about the sufferings of Kashmiri people and human rights violations by the Indian security establishment. These ground realities make Kashmiri journalists the most targeted journalists by the Indian ruling class.

The Indian government said that peace has been restored in the valley, but ironically, the Ministry of Home Affairs deployed 18 CRPF companies on January 2023. In 2019, 50,000 more personnel were deployed to Kashmir where already 7,00,000 soldiers are there. Not only expansionism as part of Akhand Bharat and Islamophobia and Xenophobia against Kashmiri Muslims but also war profiting for corporates and defense contractors are also aimed in Kashmir by the Indian ruling class. Militarization is a sign of fascism and it will reflect against the functioning of Media. Gautam Navalakha, a Bhima Koregaon Political prisoner who is accused as Maoist, is a journalist and is notedly recognised for his criticism of Indian state Violence in Kashmir. When the fourth pillar of democracy is being sabotaged by the remaining three pillars in favour of corporates, journalists like Gauri Lankesh will always be remembered.

Fahad Shah, Sajad Gul, Aasif Sultan, Gautam Navalakha, Rupesh Kumar Singh, Sudhir Dhwale and all other imprisoned Journalists!
Journalism is not a Crime!
Repeal UA(P)A, PSA and other draconian laws.
Release all Political Prisoners.
_ Rejaz M Sheeba Sydeek

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