Kashmir editor Fahad Shah arrested

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NEW DELHI – The editor of a news site has been arrested in Kashmir, in what critics have called the latest example of a wave of harassment of journalists by authorities in the troubled region.

The editor, Fahad Shah of The Kashmir Walla, was arrested on Friday after being summoned by police, said Yashraj Sharma, a colleague. He had been summoned for questioning four days earlier over the site’s coverage of a deadly police raid in late January, Mr Sharma said.

This raid, in the district of Pulwama, caused four deaths. Police described three of them as activists and the fourth, a 17-year-old, as a “militant hybrid”. The Kashmir Walla questioned the teenager’s family, who said he was an innocent civilian and called on the government to return his body. The news site‘s article also included the views of the police and military.

Kashmir police, in a statement on Friday, said they had arrested Mr Shah for “uploading anti-national content” and that he was still in their custody.

Shah’s arrest showed the Kashmir authorities’ “utter disregard for press freedom and the fundamental right of journalists to report freely and safely”, said Steven Butler, Asia Program Coordinator. Committee to Protect Journalists.

“Authorities must immediately release Shah and all other journalists behind bars, and stop detaining and harassing journalists just for doing their job,” he said.

Indian security forces have tightened their grip on Kashmir since Prime Minister Narendra Modi dissolved the region’s elected government in 2019 and placed it under direct Delhi control, with a larger military presence.

Increasingly, journalists and activists critical of the security forces have been summoned for questioning, and several have been arrested. In November, police arrested Khurram Parvez, a prominent activist who has widely documented abuses against civilians by Indian authorities, as well as militant groups active in Kashmir.

United Nations human rights experts have expressed concern about Mr Parvez, who remains detained under a strict anti-terrorism law. They said his detention appeared to be “retaliation for his legitimate activities as a human rights defender”.

Last month, police arrested Sajad Gul, another Kashmiri journalist and contributor to The Kashmir Walla, for social media posts they deemed objectionable. Mr. Gul was released on bail on January 15, but the police filed another complaint and continued his detention.

Authorities also effectively shut down the Kashmir Press Club, a support base for journalists, forcing it out of the government-owned building where it operated. It came after a murky election dispute at the club, in which police helped a faction take physical control of the building.

Authorities later said the club had ceased to exist and they had reclaimed the site to avoid a “potential public order situation”.

“The space for media freedom and active civil society has steadily eroded in the region,” the Editors Guild of India said in a statement after the club closed. “In a state plagued by such excesses against the media, the Kashmir Press Club was an important institution in fighting for the protection and rights of journalists.”

As well as running The Kashmir Walla, a decade-old outlet that employs a dozen journalists, Shah has contributed to international publications such as The Nation, Time and Foreign Policy. In a reportDD Guttenplan, editor of The Nation, condemned the arrest and said “we unequivocally support Fahad Shah”.

Violence and harassment by the police, political groups and criminal gangs make India “one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists”, according to Reporters Without Borders. The organization ranked India 142nd out of 180 countries in its 2021 Press Freedom Index, expressing particular concern over deteriorating conditions for journalists in Kashmir.

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