Fahad Shah was born in Srinagar, Kashmir. After studying journalism at the University of Kashmir, he was one of the six Felix Scholars at SOAS, the University of London, who were selected to study critical media and cultural studies in 2013. Fahad Shah is an independent journalist and the editor-in-chief of the online news magazine, ‘The Kashmir Walla’, and the recipient of the 25th Human Rights Press Award. The digital magazine started in 2011 and reports on news and other socio-cultural issues from Jammu and Kashmir.
Life and Activism
In 2017, Shah was selected by the United States Department of State for its prestigious Legislative Fellowship Program and spent four weeks at Georgetown University. He is also the anthology editor Of Occupation and Resistance: Writings from Kashmir (Tranquebar, 2013), which was listed by the Hindustan Times among the “ten most thought-provoking and intellectually satisfying books” of 2013, calling it “a remarkable book.” While talking to The Quint, Aquib Shah, Fahad’s brother recalled his words before getting arrested. “Fahad just told my parents, do not worry about anything, I might have to spend a night here at the police station.”
Many prominent leaders of Jammu and Kashmir voiced their support for Fahad Shah. Former J&K Chief Minister and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti said on Twitter, “Standing up for the truth is deemed anti-national. Showing the mirror to a deeply intolerant & authoritarian government is also anti-national. His journalistic work speaks for itself & depicts the ground reality unpalatable to the Government of India. How many Fahads will you arrest?”
Circumstances of Arrest
Fahad Shah has many ongoing cases against him, three of which are under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Arrested first on 4th February 2022, by the Pulwama police, he was granted bail by a special court under the NIA Act after 22 days in custody on February 26, 2022. Subsequently, he was arrested by the Shopian police in another case and was granted bail. As per a statement from the magazine, while granting bail to Fahad Shah, Shopian magistrate Sayeem Qayoom noted: “In a barbaric society you can hardly ask for bail, in a civilised society you can hardly refuse it. In other words, bail is a rule and its refusal is an exception.”
Hours after getting bail from a Shopian court and days after securing bail from a special court, he was arrested for the third time in a month. The most recent arrest, by the Srinagar police, is in connection with a case pertaining to his magazine’s reporting of an encounter in the city in May 2020. He was slapped with the UAPA and booked under the PSA, making his release impossible.
Charges & Allegations
The arrest in Shopian, on the heels of his first bail, came in a case filed by the Indian Army against two news portals including ‘The Kashmir Walla’ under Sections 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot) and 505 (statements conducive to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code in January 2021. This came after a report published in the magazine, alleging a local army unit “of forcing an Islamic seminary school to hold Republic Day celebrations on January 26” in Shopian.
Meanwhile, a third FIR was filed in Pulwama police station after Fahad Shah’s magazine published a story quoting family members of one of the deceased militants denying police claims. The police had contested the claims made in the report. On 14 March, Fahad Shah, who had received bail in two of the (then) three cases against him, the arrests for which had been consecutive and was awaiting his bail hearing in the third case, was slapped with the Public Security Act (a preventive detention law which allows the authorities to detain a person without conviction for up to two years).
On 5 April, he was booked under the UAPA for the third time, in the latest of the four cases against him. The new FIR relates to an article (‘The Shackles of Slavery Will Break.’) by PhD scholar Aala Fazili which was published in The Kashmir Walla back in 2011.
While the FIR does not expressly name Fahad Shah, it mentions the “editor of the monthly digital magazine “The Kashmir Walla”, which his lawyer Umair Ronga has confirmed. Fahad Shah’s brother Aqib, meanwhile, in conversation with The Quint, pointed out that “the article had a disclaimer that the views expressed were the author’s own”.
In a statement, the Jammu and Kashmir Police had alleged that journalist Fahad Shah was wanted in three cases for “glorifying terrorism, spreading fake news and inciting the general public for creating law and order (L&O) situations.” As per the statement, the 33-year-old was arrested for social media posts “tantamount to glorifying terrorist activities and causing dent to the image of law enforcing agencies besides causing ill-will and disaffection against the country.”
Currently, Fahad Shah is lodged in Kot Bhalwal Jail in Jammu after his 20 days remand ended at the Joint Interrogation Centre in Jammu. This is Fahad’s seventh lodgment in the last 125 days. He remains in detention despite serious concerns raised by human rights groups and media watchdogs about severe violations of due process.