SRINAGAR, India – Police in Indian-ruled Kashmir say they have arrested a prominent journalist accused of publishing “anti-national content”, amid a growing crackdown on media in the disputed region.
Fahad Shah, editor of the Kashmir Walla news portal, was summoned for questioning in the southern town of Pulwama on Friday and later arrested.
Police said he was identified among Facebook users and portals who posted “anti-national content”, without specifying what it was. He said the content was posted with the “criminal intent” to create fear and could “incite the public to disturb law and order”. He said such content “amounts to glorifying terrorist activities.”
The case concerns a shootout between rebels trapped in a civilian house and Indian troops in Pulwama on January 30. Police said a Kashmiri rebel commander was killed in the fighting with a Pakistani and another local militant. They described the fourth teenager killed, the home owner’s son, as a “hybrid” militant, a term authorities began using last year to refer to suspected militants with no criminal record who operate as civilians.
Kashmir Walla published a series of reports on the fights featuring both sides of the story. A video report quoted family members of the slain boy refuting the police. Another video quoted the boy’s sister contradicting an earlier statement by the family.
Shah, 34, was arrested under India’s tough anti-terrorism and sedition laws, which carry a sentence of up to seven years.
Shah and a few other journalists associated with Kashmir Walla have been questioned several times for their reporting over the past few years.
On Saturday, police tweeted that Shah was wanted in three cases for “glorifying terrorism, spreading false news and inciting the general public to create L&O (law and order) situations”.
The award-winning journalist has also reported for several foreign publications.
Kashmir is shared between India and Pakistan and both claim it entirely. Since 1989, a large-scale armed rebellion has been raging in the Indian-controlled part seeking a united Kashmir, either under Pakistani rule or independently of the two.
The region is one of the most militarized in the world. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the raging conflict.
Journalists have long faced threats in Indian-controlled Kashmir. But their situation worsened after India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019, throwing Kashmir under a severe security and communications lockdown. A year later, the government’s new media policy aimed to control the press to censor independent reporting.
Dozens were arrested, interrogated and investigated. Fearing reprisals, the local press largely withered under the pressure.
Last month, police arrested journalist Sajad Gul after his tweet linked a video clip of a protest against Indian rule following the killing of a rebel.
Also in January, a few pro-Indian government journalists, with the help of armed police, took control of the only independent press club in the Kashmir Valley. Authorities shut it down the next day, drawing heavy criticism from media watchdogs.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Indian authorities to release Shah “immediately and unconditionally” and to “drop all investigations into his work and cease detaining members of the press”.
Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia Program Coordinator, said in a statement that the arrest “shows the Jammu and Kashmir authorities’ utter disregard for press freedom and the fundamental right of journalists to report freely and safely”.
“Authorities must immediately release Shah and all other journalists behind bars, and stop detaining and harassing journalists just for doing their jobs,” he said.