New Delhi, April 18, 2022 – Authorities in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir must stop prosecuting The Kashmir Walla’s staff and contributors for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
The State Investigation Agency (SIA) in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir arrested Abdul Aala Fazili, a former contributor to privately owned news portal The Kashmir Walla, on Sunday, April 17, in relation to a November 2011 opinion article, according to news reports. The SIA and Kashmir police also raided The Kashmir Walla office, the home of editor Fahad Shah—who was arrested in March—and Fazili’s home, seizing electronic devices including laptops.
According to the Indian Express, the SIA claimed that Fazili’s 2011 opinion piece supporting Kashmir’s separation from the Indian state was “highly provocative, seditious and intended to create unrest” and written to propagate “the false narrative which is essential to sustain [a] secessionist cum terrorist campaign aimed at breaking the territorial integrity of India.” The SIA did not give any information as to why it was acting now on the article.
“The Jammu and Kashmir authorities’ vindictive campaign against journalists has reached the point of absurdity with the arrest of former Kashmir Walla contributor Abdul Aala Fazili over an 11-year-old article,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, from Washington, D.C. “Indian authorities must drop its investigation into Fazili and immediately release him.”
Fazili is a former contributor to The Kashmir Walla who is currently a research scholar at Kashmir University, according to those news reports.
According to a statement by The Kashmir Walla, the SIA and Kashmir police raided Shah’s home and the outlet’s office for three hours on April 17. According to the outlet, officials seized two reporters laptops, a computer from the multimedia department, six hard drives, and five CDs. Officials also searched reporting notebooks and phones of two reporters who were present in the office during the raid.
The SIA accused Fazili of violating four sections of the Indian penal code, including criminal conspiracy, waging or attempting to wage war against the Indian government, sedition, and making assertions prejudicial to national integration, and two sections of the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for unlawful activities and terrorism, according to The Kashmir Walla.
After the publication of this article, CPJ obtained a copy of the police force’s first information report, a document which opens an investigation.
That report only identifies Fazili by name, and says that police are also investigating the The Kashmir Walla’s editor, who it does not identify, for allegedly conspiring with Fazili and “endorsing the contents” of that 2011 article. It also says police are investigating an unspecified number of other people associated with The Kashmir Walla for alleged conspiracy-related violations of the penal code and the UAPA.
If charged and convicted of criminal conspiracy under the penal code, the accused could face up to six months in prison and a fine. Convictions for terrorist conspiracy under the UAPA can carry life imprisonment.
CPJ was unable to confirm Fazili’s current whereabouts. Shah is currently in preventive custody in Kupwara District Jail after he was granted bail in two investigations where he has been accused of violating the UAPA and other Indian laws, as CPJ documented and news reports.
Dilbag Singh, the director-general of the Jammu and Kashmir police, did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app. CPJ could not locate contact information for the SIA’s spokesperson.
[Editors’ Note: This alert has been corrected in paragraphs four, seven, and eight to drop reference to new charges against Fahad Shah. It has also been updated to include information from the police first information report.]