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Independent journalism disappearing in IIOJK, RSF reacts to Fahad Shah’s arrest

Paris, February 08 (KMS): The international non-profit organization working for safeguarding the right to freedom of information, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has called for immediate and unconditional release of the editor of the leading investigative media outlet in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir, Fahad Shah, widely respected abroad for the quality of his reporting.

According to Kashmir Media Service, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) spokesperson Pauline Adès Mével in a statement said Fahad Shah is facing the possibility of life imprisonment on a sedition charge.

The police used a tweet on 5 February to announce that Fahad Shah, the editor of The Kashmir Walla news website, had been arrested the day before in Pulwama, a town in the south of Jammu and Kashmir, for “spreading fake news and inciting the public to disrupt law and order”.

On the basis of these charges, he could be sentenced to life imprisonment under section 124 (A) of the penal code – India’s sedition law.

A nominee for the RSF Prize for Courage in 2020, Shah was summoned by police and arrested on 4 February in connection with The Kashmir Walla’s coverage of a gunfight between police and “militants” on 30 January. It was not the first time he has been questioned in connection with his reporting, but it was the first time such serious charges have been brought against him.

“A journalist cannot be thrown in prison and face spending the rest of his life there simply for doing his job and covering a news story,” said Pauline Adès Mével. “This arrest is a disturbing sign and confirms that independent journalism is in the process of disappearing in Indian-administered Kashmir. We call on the territory’s authorities to release Fahad Shah immediately and unconditionally.”

A request for Shah’s release on bail was immediately filed by his lawyer, Umair Rongam, who described his arrest as “shocking” and “the end of the rule of law.”

Worsening situation

“Working as a journalist was never easy in Kashmir, and now with each passing day it seems more difficult,” Shah told RSF in 2017. In recent years, Shah has been subjected to repeated attacks on his home as well as police interrogations designed to intimidate him and get him to reveal the sources for his reporting.

Harassment of all Kashmiri journalists has been growing ever since the government in New Delhi abolished the territory’s partial autonomy in August 2019. There have been more violations of the right to information by the local authorities since the start of 2022, she added.

Paramilitaries arrested Sajad Gul, a reporter for The Kashmir Walla, on 5 January and the Indian government closed the Kashmir Press Club two weeks later. Gul’s arrest was “part of a procedure of stopping journalists from reporting incidents that the government sees as problematic,” Shah told RSF at the time.

India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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