Freedom of the press, democracy and Fahad Shah
Fahad Shah, editor of The Kashmir Walla newspaper and contributor to Monitor, was imprisoned in February in response to articles that Indian authorities said “glorify terrorist activities”. He remains behind bars, having been released on bail several times, only to be arrested again on a new charge.
Between March and May, he was placed in “preventive detention”, which allows a two-year incarceration without charge. Then a new case under the Prevention of Unlawful Activities Act, centering on an opinion piece by an 11-year-old guest, led to him being transferred to a jail in Jammu, away from his family members. immediate, who are the only ones authorized to visit but cannot travel. This has left Fahad isolated, even as his health deteriorates, his colleagues say.
As well as highlighting the cost to an individual journalist, Fahad’s story is a cautionary tale about anti-democratic – and therefore anti-media – forces growing stronger globally.
At the recent conference of the International Press Institute, held this year at Columbia University in New York, a global range of journalists looked at misinformation, online abuse, imprisonment and impunity that threaten their work. Carlos Dada, founder of Salvadoran publication El Faro and winner of the IPI’s 2022 World Press Freedom Hero Award, said accepting the award that “each of [more than 2,000 journalists killed since 1992] paid the ultimate price to inform, … to denounce corruption, to walk in the territory of organized crime or to investigate injustices against the disadvantaged, crimes against the environment, against humanity. Most of these deaths go unpunished.
Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor of Indian publication The Wire, says the media is particularly targeted in Jammu and Kashmir. “Two journalists – Fahad Shah and Sajad Gul – have been imprisoned for almost 9 months because their reporting and social media posts have annoyed the authorities,” he shared via email. “The aim is to intimidate the wider media fraternity rather than prove false charges in a public trial. The authorities are also imposing an undeclared – and illegal – travel ban on Kashmiri journalists. Such is the climate of fear that most prefer not to talk about their experience” or turn to the courts for redress.
Indeed, this repression and the threat of prison have greatly reduced the work of The Kashmir Walla and the forced layoffs. The publication is in financial difficulty. Yet, as Mr. Dada said, “the world we want to belong to needs an independent press that… puts its methods at the service of truth and a better understanding of the reasons why we live like we live”.