Fahad Shah, a well-known journalist from Kashmir, has been released from jail after spending over 600 days in confinement. The court granted him bail, stating there was insufficient evidence to try him for terrorism.
Shah, 34, owns and edits the independent news portal Kashmir Walla, which was banned by the Indian government without declared reasons earlier this year. The High Court of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, in its bail order, expressed that the local agency, Special Investigation Agency (SIA), lacked evidence under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a stringent terror law.
The UAPA has faced criticism for being used by India’s government to target political opponents, activists, and dissidents. Shah was accused of “glorifying terrorism” and “spreading fake news” for publishing an article by Abdul Aala Fazili, a University of Kashmir pharmacy student, discussing the Indian “occupation” and advocating for the region’s freedom.
While charges under the UAPA were quashed, Shah will continue facing trial under other UAPA sections and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, related to receiving illegal funds.
The court acknowledged the difficulty in obtaining bail under the UAPA but emphasized that Shah did not pose a “clear and present danger” to society if released.
It highlighted the importance of freedom of speech and expression, stating that criticizing the central government should not be labeled as a terrorist act.
Shah’s arrest in February 2022 stemmed from a report on his news portal about an encounter in Pulwama, Indian-administered Kashmir.
He faced multiple arrests and charges, including under the UAPA, leading to online access to Kashmir Walla being blocked by the Indian government in August 2022.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomed Shah’s release on bail, urging the dropping of all charges against him and the revocation of the website ban.
Despite the challenges, Shah has managed to secure bail in three cases, emphasizing the complex landscape for independent media in Kashmir.