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4 Months After Arrest, What is Happening in the Many Cases Against Fahad Shah?

Recipient of the Human Rights Press Award, Fahad Shah is editor of The Kashmir Walla and an independent journalist.

Published
Law
7 min read
4 Months After Arrest, What is Happening in the Many Cases Against Fahad Shah?
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On Friday, 4 June, Kashmiri journalist Fahad Shah completed four months of unrelenting incarceration since his first arrest by the Pulwama Police on 4 February. During the course of this period:

  • Fahad Shah's lawyer has filed four bail applications for him and one application challenging the order for his detention in connection with the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (a preventive detention law which allows the authorities to detain a person without conviction for up to two years).

  • He has already received bail in two of the four cases against him (and was awaiting his bail hearing in the third case when he was detained under PSA)

  • He has been shifted between six different lockup facilities including Pulwama, Soura, Shopian and Safadakal police stations and the Kupwara district jail. Most recently, he was taken to the State Investigation Agency's interrogation facility in Jammu

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All the cases against him pertain to his work as a journalist and as the editor of The Kashmir Walla. But the PSA dossier alleges:

“You are having radical ideology from your childhood and being a prominent journalist by profession, your approach has been based on creating a rift between the groups of law abiding masses."

Most recently, on 5 April, Shah was booked under the UAPA for the third time, in the latest of the four cases against him. This new FIR relates to an article allegedly written by PhD scholar Aala Fazili, which was published in The Kashmir Walla all the way back in 2011.

The Latest UAPA Case Against Fahad Shah

While the FIR filed this year against Fazili and Shah in connection with the 11-year-old article originally alleged “The editor of monthly digital magazine "The Kashmir Wala" has intentionally conspired with the author and published it in the monthly digital magazine thus endorsing the contents of the article,” the SIA’s detailed report submitted in a Jammu court on 30 May also says:

"Aala Fazili has so far denied having written this write up and hence the onus of writing the seditious article is on editor in chief Fahad Shah."

Both Fazili and Shah have been booked under Sections 13 and 18 of the UAPA, among several other sections of the Indian Penal Code. While, section 13 of the UAPA deals with the punishment for 'unlawful activities’, section 18 deals with punishment for conspiracy to commit a terrorist act.

The invocation of the latter section makes it especially hard for either to receive bail as, according to Section 43D(5) of the UAPA, those accused of terror-related offences under the act cannot be released on bail if the court, "is of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the accusation against such person is prima facie true."

Further, the SIA's report goes on to ask the court to deny bail to Shah on grounds that include: certain aspect of the probe still need to be covered; if bail is granted to Shah he can, as per them, destroy the "evidences that link him to the seditious article"; and that they have apprehensions that he may flee the country "like other contaminated journalists."

Meanwhile, the SIA also summoned Yash Raj Sharma, the present acting-editor of The Kashmir Walla, for questioning with regard to the case of the contentious article. Notably, however, Sharma, according to The Wire, was 12 years old when the article was published in November 2011.

"Yash Raj, who has experience in journalism and has worked with the magazine before, is presently handling the editorial affairs of The Kashmir Walla," Fahad's brother Aqib Shah told The Quint.

As far as the management of the magazine is concerned, it is being handled by Aqib himself. This arrangement is in order to keep the news-website running while their editor is locked up for an unclear amount of time.

Chocolates & Mental Health: Fahad's Brother Recounts Recent Visit

On Wednesday, Aqib took due permissions and went to visit his brother in the SIA facility in Jammu, where they sat in a small room that, Aquib said, looked a lot like any other public office. The interrogation officers were present while the two brothers conversed, but they did not interrupt them.

"Fahad loves chocolates," Aqib told the reporter over a phone call, a smile in his voice. "So the two of us even shared a chocolate that I had brought for him."

But on being asked how Fahad is doing, Aqib's voice took a more sombre tone.

"Physically he is okay," he said. "But emotionally he is frustrated and tired of the repeated questions being asked of him that make no sense to him and have nothing to do with his work as a journalist."

"They repeatedly ask him things like who are you friends? What did you do when you had gone to study in SOAS, London? What are your thoughts about the future?"

"So I told him: “Maybe this is the torture being inflicted on you, maybe this is how they are punishing you," Aqib said.

But on being asked by The Quint why he thinks such questions are being asked of Fahad Shah, senior advocate and veteran human rights lawyer Mihir Desai opined:

"This could be because they might want to make out some larger point of conspiracy or that they might want to show that Shah’s editorial direction has been in support of secession or a similar ideology. They might be trying to build a bigger conspiracy angle, which is not just confined to the article, but to larger issues. But we don’t know that yet so cannot say with confirmation."

Aqib also told The Quint that Shah had in the past taken help for anxiety and other mental-health related issues, and had recently told him that being in the jail has brought back the problems.

"He told me that when he was in Kupwara jail he had even requested the authorities to shift him to Srinagar, so he could receive treatment from the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences there," he said.

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But, Who is Fahad Shah?

A recipient of the 25th Human Rights Press Award, a nominee for the RSF Press Freedom Prize for Courage and the editor of The Kashmir Walla, Fahad Shah is an independent journalist who has bylines in TIME, Atlantic, Guardian as well as several other international publications.

While Columbia Journalism Review has dubbed him a “brave and honest champion of Indian journalism”, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in their Press Freedom Award nomination of Fahad stated:

“The outlet that he runs has played an important part in defending press freedom, using innovative methods to keep 8 million Kashmiris informed despite the fact that they have been cut off from the outside world since the territory’s autonomy was rescinded in August 2019.”

His alma mater SOAS (United Kingdom), where he did his Masters in Arts (MA) from, had also in February joined a long list of institutions such as the Committee to Protect Journalists to call for his immediate release.

In their note, SOAS wrote:

"We call for his immediate release as we understand he has been arrested under terrorism and sedition laws in what has been widely reported as an increasing attack on press freedom in Indian-administered Kashmir, as reported in the Guardian and New York Times. (sic)"

Meanwhile, Committee to Protect Journalists said:

"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. (sic)"

But, as of today, it has been four months since CPJ's statement was released in the aftermath of his first arrest, and since then Indian authorities have arrested Shah in simultaneous succession in different cases, detained him under the PSA and slapped him with yet another UAPA case under terror-related provisions.

Commenting on the escalation of charges and unending incarceration of Fahad Shah, Desai also said:

"This has been done in the Delhi Riots case, Bhima Koregaon case and several others as well. They start with one FIR, which ultimately has little to do with what they are charging you. So this is a kind of module which the prosecution has been following, which according to me is totally incorrect.”

According to Desai, the problem is that the UAPA itself is a very draconian law, and "it is being used and misused in a very bad manner to stifle any kind of dissent."

“I feel UAPA should go, for all this to stop, because the UAPA has been massively misused."

Last month the Supreme Court temporarily froze the Sedition Law (124A of the IPC), stating that all those who have already been booked under the provision and are languishing in jails can approach the courts for bail.

Fahad Shah also has a sedition charge against him, but this top court order might still not help him. This is because he has been charged in the latest case under terror-related provisions of the UAPA, which as explained above, make grant of bail extremely difficult.

According to Mihir Desai: "The same logic that the Supreme Court used for Sedition (when they put an interim freeze on the law) should apply to UAPA."

In the meantime, Fahad's incarceration and interrogation continues in Jammu, where the temperatures touch 40 degrees centigrade and the only people he gets to converse with are the staff.

"He prefers judicial custody to this because at least there he has space to walk around and other inmates to speak with," Aqib tells The Quint, as our conversation nears close.

On being asked what Fahad enjoyed doing in his free-time before the spate of arrests began, Aqib's voice begins to crack as the internet falters on this reporter's end. But his words tumble through, his reply as uncomplicated and as ordinary as network glitches on monsoon evenings.

"Reading and travelling. Just reading and travelling," he says.

The next hearing in Fahad Shah's bail plea is fixed for 22 June, and for 28 June in the petition challenging his detention order.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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