Kashmir Walla interim editor Yashraj Sharma was summoned for questioning by a terrorism investigating body of the Jammu and Kashmir police June 2. (YouTube/The Kashmir Walla)

Kashmir Walla interim editor Yashraj Sharma summoned for questioning by Jammu and Kashmir authorities

New York, June 3, 2022– The Committee to Protect Journalists on Friday called on authorities in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir to immediately cease harassing and intimidating Yashraj Sharma, interim editor of the online news portal of The Kashmir Walla, and the portal’s staff.

The newly created State Investigation Agency (SIA), a body of the Jammu and Kashmir police that investigates terrorism cases, questioned Sharma on June 2 at the agency’s police station at the Joint Interrogation Centre in Jammu, according to multiple news reports

The SIA had summoned Sharma in relation to a terrorism investigation opened in April 2022 into Abdul Aala Fazili, a one-time contributor to The Kashmir Walla, and an unspecified number of other unnamed people associated with the news portal, in connection with Fazili’s 2011 opinion article published by The Kashmir Walla, according to those sources and CPJ documentation. Sharma, who joined The Kashmir Walla in 2018, was 12 when Fazili’s article was published, according to The Wire.

“The summoning of Indian journalist Yashraj Sharma for questioning in relation to a Kashmir Walla article published when he was 12 years old, fully six years before he joined the publication, takes Indian authorities’ harassment of independent media in Kashmir into the realm of absurdity,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Jammu and Kashmir authorities must immediately stop the relentless harassment and end the vindictive campaign against The Kashmir Walla and its staff.”

The SIA had arrested Fazili in relation to that investigation on April 17, as CPJ documented. He remains detained, according to a person familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal.

On May 20, the SIA arrested already-detained Kashmir Walla editor Fahad Shah and moved him from Kashmir’s Kupwara District Jail, to the Joint Interrogation Centre for questioning in relation to the same investigation, according to news reports. This marked Shah’s fifth arrest since February 4, when he was first arrested on accusations of sedition and terrorism, according to those sources and CPJ documentation. The Indian legal system allows for an accused to be arrested multiple times, even while in custody.

In February 2022, CPJ joined 57 organizations in a letter calling on Manoj Sinha, Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, to immediately release Shah and all arbitrarily detained Kashmiri journalists, including The Kashmir Walla trainee reporter Sajad Gul. 

In April 2022, the SIA and Kashmir police raided The Kashmir Walla’s office and Shah’s home, seizing electronic devices including laptops, and in May 2022 CPJ documented the increasing use of the Public Safety Act, a stringent preventative detention law, to prolong the detention of Kashmiri journalists who were to be released on court-ordered bail.

Jammu and Kashmir police are also continuing a criminal investigation into Sharma over an article published in The Kashmir Walla in January 2021, which quoted the chairperson of a school in south Kashmir’s Shopian district saying that Indian Army authorities had pressured the school to celebrate Republic Day. 

Dilbag Singh, director-general of the Jammu and Kashmir police, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app.