SRINAGAR, India – Police in Indian-controlled Kashmir said they have arrested a prominent journalist on charges of publishing “anti-national content”. in a widening crackdown on media in the disputed region.
Fahad Shah, the editor of news portal Kashmir Walla, was summoned to the southern city of Pulwama on Friday for questioning and later arrested.
Police said he was identified among Facebook users and portals who had posted “anti-national content” without specifying what it was about. It said the content was posted with “criminal intent” to incite fear and could “provoke the public to disrupt law and order.” It said such content was “tantamount to glorifying terrorist activity.”
The case relates to a shootout between rebels trapped in a civilian house and Indian forces in Pulwama on January 30. Police said a Kashmiri rebel commander was killed in the fighting along with a Pakistani and another local militant. They described the fourth teenager killed, the homeowner’s son, as a “hybrid” militant, a term authorities have been using since last year for alleged militants with no criminal records operating as civilians.
Kashmir Walla ran a series of accounts of the fighting that presented both sides of the story. A video report quoted family members of the killed boy who refuted the police. Another video quoted the boy’s sister as contradicting an earlier statement by the family.
Shah, 34, was arrested under India’s strict anti-terror and sedition laws, which carry a sentence of up to seven years.
Shah and several other reporters associated with Kashmir Walla have been questioned several times over the past several years about their reporting.
On Saturday, police tweeted that Shah was wanted on three counts of “glorifying terrorism, spreading fake news and inciting the public to create L&O (law and order) situations.”
The award-winning journalist has also reported for several foreign publications.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim it in full. Since 1989, a full-blown armed rebellion has raged in the Indian-controlled portion, seeking a unified Kashmir, either under Pakistani rule or independent of both.
The region is one of the most militarized in the world. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government troops have been killed in the raging conflict.
Journalists have long faced threats in Indian-controlled Kashmir. But their predicament worsened after India lifted the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019 and placed Kashmir under a strict security and communications lockdown. A year later, the government’s new media policy sought to control the press to censure independent reporting.
Dozens were arrested, interrogated and investigated. Fearing reprisals, the local press has largely withered under the pressure.
Last month, The police arrested journalist Sajad Gul after his tweet linked a video clip of a protest against Indian rule following the assassination of a rebel.
Also in January, some journalists supporting the Indian government, with the support of the armed police, seized control of the Kashmir Valley’s only independent press club. Authorities shut it down the next day, drawing harsh criticism from media watchdogs.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called on Indian authorities to release Shah “immediately and unconditionally” and to “stop any investigation into his work and stop detaining members of the press.”
Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, said in a statement the arrest “demonstrates the total disregard for freedom of the press and the fundamental right of journalists to report freely and safely by the Jammu and Kashmir authorities.”
“The authorities must immediately release Shah and all other journalists and stop detaining and harassing journalists just for doing their jobs,” he said.