The Kashmir Walla Editor-in-Chief Fahad Shah has been named in yet another First Information Report (FIR) on March 14, 2022 under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), jeopardising his bail that was due for hearing the next day. This is the fourth FIR against him. Human rights defenders organisations like the Front Line Defenders fear these are attempts to curb Shah and his magazine’s reportage on political and human rights issues.
The PSA is a preventive detention law that allows for the detention of an individual for up to two years without trial to protect the “the security of the state or the maintenance of the public order”. Aside from this, Shah was charged and arrested for three FIRs including a case under the anti-terror law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) on February 4. Of these, he was granted bail in two cases including the UAPA case, and was due for a bail hearing on March 15 for the third.
However, with the registration of this new case, rights groups worry that the human rights defender is at risk of prolonged incarceration regardless of the court’s verdict. Shah is nowadays held at Kupwara district jail in Kashmir.
“The application of the PSA appears to aim at keeping him detained even when bail is granted in other cases filed against him. It [Front Line Defenders] urges relevant authorities in India to immediately and unconditionally release Fahad Shah and dismiss all charges filed against him,” said the organisation in a statement.
According to the Front Line Defenders, the PSA is a draconian legislation that violates fundamental civil and political liberties guaranteed under international human rights laws. The law punishes human rights defenders and journalists in Kashmir, violates their fair trial rights, and suppresses the voices of dissent which are crucial for the functioning of a democracy, it said.
Alleging that the PSA is especially used against journalists reporting on human rights violations, it cited the arrest of The Kashmir Walla trainee reporter Sajad Gul on January 6, 2021. He was charged under criminal conspiracy and other charges for posting a video of a family shouting slogans critical of government actions after their kin was killed in a gunfight in Srinagar. Like Shah, the reporter was charged under the PSA on January 16, a day after being granted bail. Then in July 2019, The Kashmiriyat Editor Qazi Shibli was charged under the same law for tweeting about the deployment of additional troops in Kashmir. He was imprisoned without trial for nine months.
About Fahad Shah
Shah founded The Kashmir Walla with an aim to report political and human rights issues. His work on culture, human rights, and identity politics has been published in several international publications. He won the Human Rights Press Award for his report on the February 2020 New Delhi February 2020 In 2021. Moreover, he has been nominated for the RSF Press Freedom Prize for Courage.
On February 4, Shah was arrested on charges including the UAPA and remanded to judicial custody at the Pulwama police station. He got bail on February 26 but was immediately arrested again in another case against him in Shopian. When he got the bail for this case on March 5, he was re-arrested in a case lodged at Safakadal police station in Srinagar. The PSA charges are the latest in this slew of FIRs.
The Srinagar Magistrate named the human rights defender an “anti-national” and justified his detention on the grounds that his “activities are prejudicial to the security and sovereignty of the country as [he] tweets controversial statements and provokes the general masses which cause mischief to disrupt the peace and tranquillity of the Kashmir valley.”