New Delhi, February 4, 2022 – Authorities in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Fahad Shah, drop any investigation into his work, and cease detaining members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On Friday evening, authorities in Jammu and Kashmir arrested Shah, editor of the privately owned news portal The Kashmir Walla, at a police station in the southern Kashmiri city of Pulwama, where he had been summoned earlier that day for questioning, according to news reports and a person familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal by authorities.
In a statement republished in those reports, police claimed that Shah had been identified among “some Facebook users and [news] portals” that had published “anti-national content,” but did not mention any specific content.
A police first information report, the first step in opening an investigation, which CPJ reviewed, states that Shah is being investigated for alleged sedition and making statements causing public mischief, both crimes under the Indian penal code, and of unlawful activities under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. If charged and convicted of sedition, Shah could face life imprisonment and an unspecified fine, according to the law. If charged and convicted of making statements causing public mischief, Shah could face up to three years in prison and an unspecified fine, according to the law. If charged and convicted of the offenses under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Shah could face up to seven years in prison and unspecified fine, according to the law.
“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, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Authorities must immediately release Shah, and all other journalists behind bars, and cease detaining and harassing journalists for simply doing their jobs.”
Before his detention, Shah told CPJ in a phone interview that police had questioned him on February 1 about The Kashmir Walla’s coverage of a gun fight between militants and government forces on January 30, which was published on the outlet’s website and its official Facebook page.
Shah has also repeatedly advocated for the release of Sajad Gul, a contributor to The Kashmir Walla, on his Twitter account, where he has about 55,000 followers. Gul was arrested on January 5, as CPJ documented at the time. He was granted bail on January 15, but police filed another dossier against him on the following day and he remains in detention, according to news reports.
CPJ repeatedly called Kashmir Police Director-General Dilbag Singh and Pulwama Police Senior Superintendent Ghulam Geelani, and contacted them via messaging app for comment, but did not receive any replies.
[Editors’ note: This article has been updated in its fourth paragraph to include information from the police first information report. The fourth paragraph has been updated to reflect the correct nature of the punishment Shah could face under Indian law.]