Kashmiri journalist, human right defender languishing in jail under a draconian law

As Fahad Shah completes 500 days in jail, UN group calls detention of previously arrested activist Parvez “arbitrary”, urges India to reverse its politics of silencing dissent
Image Courtesy: thekashmiriyat.co.uk

“The situation is still very worrying in Kashmir. Reporters are often harassed by police and paramilitaries and must cope with utterly Orwellian content regulations, and where media outlets are liable to be closed.”
CNN’s Mukhtar Ahmad, Reporters Without Borders

Fahad Shah, a prominent Kashmiri journalist detained on draconian charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), completed 500 days in prison on June 18. Shah, the founder-editor of ‘The Kashmir Walla’, was arrested by Pulwama police on February 4 last year under the colonial UAPA law for allegedly uploading “anti-national” content on social media. He was afterwards detained five times over the course of four months, suffering though a Kafkaesque experience where he was subsequently arrested after every bail. 

In the 17 months since his incarceration under many charges, jugging around in different jails, Shah has obtained three rounds of bail, including two in UAPA cases! An Order under the Public Safety Act (PSA) against him has been quashed! Yet he remains imprisoned in connection with a case stemming from an opinion piece published in Shah’s publication in the year 2011. 

His detention has been described as the “final nail in the coffin of independent journalism in Kashmir.” The arrest of Shah sent waves of shock through the already shattered and targeted Kashmiri journalism community, with many going into hiding or leaving the field entirely. Furthermore, the application of such harsh draconian laws by the police, blurring the line between independent reporting and “propagating stories that are contrary to the interests and security of the nation,” were another grave cause of concern. 

Misuse of law- charges filed, bails granted

Bail under draconian laws: On February 4, 2022, Shah was arrested by the Pulwama police under sedition and anti-terror law, after ‘The Kashmir Walla’ had reported the events of a gunfight between the government forces and militants in south Kashmir. He was granted bail by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) court in Srinagar on February 26, 2022. 

However, the Shopian police promptly detained him again in a case that was filed in January 2021 against his portal’s reporting. Shah was again released on bail on March 5, 2022, by a Shopian court magistrate, but Srinagar police later detained him again in connection with reporting for his news portal in July 2020.  On March 14, 2022, Shah was then detained under the PSA and lodged in the Kupwara Jail.

The PSA order quashed: In April 2023, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court overturned the PSA order against Shah, calling the imprisonment “illegal” and the “non-application of mind” on behalf of detaining authorities. 

Terming the journalist’s imprisonment to be “illegal” and the “non-application of mind” on behalf of detaining authorities, the court had said: A mere apprehension of a breach of law and order is not sufficient to meet the standard of adversely affecting the “maintenance of public order”. In this case, the apprehension of a disturbance to public order owing to a crime that was reported over seven months prior to the detention order has no basis in fact.

A single bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, led by Justice Wasim Sadiq Narwal, had noted that the authorities “did not carefully evaluate and apply their thoughts while passing the detention order”. The bench has said that the apprehension of an adverse impact to public order “is a mere surmise of the detaining authority, especially when there have been no reports of unrest since the detainee was released on bail on January 8, 2021 and detained with effect from June 26, 2021”. 

The court decided that Shah was the target of “grave” charges. “However, the personal liberty of an accused cannot be sacrificed on the altar of preventive detention merely because a person is implicated in a criminal proceeding,” the order read. “The powers of preventive detention are exceptional and even draconian.” 

Detained for his opinion piece: Shah was being held at Kupwara Jail in north Kashmir under the PSA when the State Investigation Agency (SIA) arrested him on May 20, 2022, for questioning in a case. 

Shah’s custody was taken over from the Kupwara jail in order to investigate the SIA’s FIR number 01/2022, which was lodged at the Joint Interrogation Centre in Jammu, against an opinion piece written by Abdul Aala Fazili, a scholar from Kashmiri University, which was published 11 years ago in The Kashmir Walla and titled as “The Shackles of Slavery Will Break”. However, the agency issued a chargesheet in the case in which Shah and a Fazili are still imprisoned in Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal jail ten months after the arrest.

Fahad Shah not the lone Kashmiri in jail, remember Khurram Parvez?

In addition to Shah, Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez has also been languishing in jail since almost 1.5 years, arrested on November 22,  2021 under the draconian anti-terrorism legislation, and is currently detained in Rohini Jail, Delhi. Parvez is a human rights defender that has worked tirelessly to document human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir for the past 20 years. He is the Coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), and the Chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD). 

Parvez was unlawfully, unjustly and arbitrarily detained by NIA officers after a 14-hour raid on his home and the JKCCS office in Srinagar, during which his electronic devices and several documents were confiscated. Since then, Parvez has been prosecuted on a slew of fabricated allegations relating to criminal conspiracy and terrorism, and his fundamental rights to due process and a fair trial have been repeatedly violated. In addition to the UAPA allegations filed against Parvez, the NIA filed another case against him and journalist Irfan Mehraj in October 2020, explicitly targeting JKCCS and anyone involved with the group.

In an opinion adopted on March 28 2023 and released on June 5 2023, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) stated that the detention of activist Parvez was “arbitrary”. It called upon the Indian authorities to immediately release him and to provide him with an “enforceable right to compensation and other reparations.”

“The UN ruling on Khurram Parvez’s case authoritatively confirms that his detention is an act of reprisal for his human rights work, and an attempt to silence him and Kashmiri civil society as a whole. The Indian authorities must implement the UN’s recommendations and immediately release Khurram,” said Alice Mogwe, International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) President, as reported by the civicus.org.

It is essential to note that the WGAD is mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate alleged cases of arbitrary detention. The WGAD considers individual complaints and adopts opinions on whether the detention of a particular individual is considered to be arbitrary. This WGAD opinion was issued in response to a complaint filed jointly by FIDH, CIVICUS, FORUM-ASIA and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) to the UN body on behalf of Parvez on November 22, 2022.

“The arbitrary and unjust detention of Khurram Parvez is not an isolated incident but the result of India’s relentless attacks on those who expose the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government’s discriminatory and abusive policies. India must reverse its politics of silencing dissent and guarantee the right to defend human rights in the country”, said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General, as reported by the civicus.org.

Additionally, the WGAD expressed serious concern about “the chilling effects” of Mr. Parvez’s arrest and prolonged detention on civil society, human rights defenders and journalists in India. Furthermore, the WGAD found that Parvez’s deprivation of liberty is in contravention of Articles 2, 7, 9, 11, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 2, 9, 14, 15, 19, 22, and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The WGAD also determined that the authorities failed to establish a legal basis for Parvez’s detention (Category I); that his detention stemmed from his “legitimate exercise of freedom of opinion, expression and association” (Category II); that the “violations of Mr. Parvez’s right to a fair trial are of such gravity as to give his detention an arbitrary character” (Category III); and that he was deprived of his liberty on “discriminatory grounds, owing to his status as a human rights defender and on the basis of his political or other opinion” (Category V).

FIDH, CIVICUS, FORUM-ASIA and OMCT welcomed the WGAD’s opinion and reiterated their calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Khurram Parvez and all other human rights defenders currently in prison in India, and for all charges to be dropped.


Activists, writers, students, academics, and journalists have reported an increase in intimidation in recent years, as well as attempts to silence any critics of the current government’s decisions on Kashmir, the deployment of the army under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), and the repeal of Article 370. 

Sedition charges, legislation dating back to the British colonial era, have been on the rise. The application of these harsh and severe rules has grown so lax that hundreds of people, including poets, political organisers, activists, and human rights advocates, have been imprisoned under an antiterrorism statute, the UAPA and the PSA. 

Kashmiri journalists have long been caught between deadly militants deploying arms and terror tactics and the repressive Indian government, which has tried to maintain a tight control this region of Kashmir. 


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