Not reporting stories related to good governance or positive interventions by the Government of India are among many charges listed in the Public Safety Act (PSA) dossier against Fahad Shah, a young Kashmiri editor, jailed for more than 40 days.
Shah, who edits The Kashmir Walla, a popular news portal based out of Srinagar, is serving detention in Kupwara these days. Earlier, he was detained in three separate cases — each in the last three years — of which he secured bail in two. His lawyer was preparing to seek his bail in a third case when the government slapped the stringent PSA against him. Under the law, a person can be interned for a few months to two years.
“You are having radical ideology right from your childhood,” the four-page dossier signed by the Srinagar district magistrate mentioned. “You have promoted separatism through your articles, tweets and social media posts, thus clearly trying to advance your own radical ideology.”
Other charges listed blamed him “for imperiling the security of the nation as his stories mostly highlight the allegations of Kashmir conflict and Indian State highhandedness”.
This kind of journalism, the document suggests, exposes Shah to charges of disseminating “a particular narrative which is in line with ISI/separatist propaganda”.
“Over the last two years, you have followed a very selective/particular pattern of disseminating anti-India sentiment in a very subtle manner mostly though some of the stories are brazenly provocative as well,” it says.
Shah has been accused of portraying “anti-India sentiment, glorifying stone pelters, terrorists”. The document blames him for being a “hard-headed and scheming person who is creating fears among the majority population based on radical and unethical journalism”.
The dossier accuses Shah of possessing an “instigating bent of mind” and that he can “brainwash people easily” because “you are well qualified”.
Other incriminating details include having a “good number of followers on social media”.
“You have been found guilty of misguiding common masses by circulating fake news against the government and its policies. A journalist is one who lifts the curtains of darkness, but you are always trying to bring the people in dark by misrepresenting facts,” the dossier reads.
Shah was arrested on February 5 when his portal put out an interview of a family who claimed their son, killed in an encounter with security forces, was innocent. Police had said four militants were killed in the gun battle and Inayat Mir too was part of the group. Later a video went viral in which the sister of Mir maintained he had pledged to die rather than surrender before the police.
Shah’s news portal had updated the story later but in the meantime, a case was registered and he was slapped with the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and other charges.
After contesting his case, Shah’s lawyers secured an interim bail on February 26. He was released from the Pulwama police station but within no time handed over to Shopian district police under a different case pertaining to an article in which he had questioned the army for allegedly forcing students of a religious seminary in Shopian to celebrate a Republic Day function.
He was again granted bail by a Shopian court but was arrested a third time over a report on a gunfight in the Nawa Kadal area of Srinagar in 2020.
Umair Ronga, Shah’s lawyer who secured bail for him on two occasions, wrote, “Sensing that the Hon’ble Special Court may grant bail as the allegations levelled against the accused do not prima facie connect him with the commission on any offence, the authorities have taken recourse to J&K Public Safety Act.”
On Shah and other journalists working in Kashmir, the Press Council of India had recently observed that “the security establishment cannot label writing against government policies, or quoting a family or civilian sources in a story about excesses of the armed forces, or tweeting a point of view as ‘fake news’ or ‘anti-national activity’ and then arresting the journalist for sedition”.
The PCI suggested that it was not the business of journalists to support government policies or development work. “A journalist’s job is to report the news as it happens, even if it is unpalatable to government officials,” it said.