Asked to stop by “for five minutes,” Kashmiri reporter now facing possible life imprisonment
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of a reputable journalist based in northern India’s Kashmir region who was arrested on spurious terrorism charges in Srinagar, the regional capital, on 20 March and was quickly transferred to New Delhi.
A magazine editor and contributor to national and international media, Irfan Mehraj is facing the possibility of life imprisonment following his arrest by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s main counter-terrorism agency, in an operation against Kashmiri NGOs accused of activities “prejudicial to the unity, integrity, sovereignty and security of India.”
“Irfan Mehraj is an experienced, responsible and careful reporter who has no place being in prison. Special laws intended to combat terrorism should not be used to suppress the activities of journalists. In view of the clearly spurious nature of the charges brought against him, we call on Indian home minister Amit Shah to order his immediate and unconditional release.
Mehraj’s father told The Wire news website that Mehraj was working on a story on the evening of 20 March when police investigators called him on his mobile phone and told him to come over to their office “for five minutes.” After complying, he was arrested and transferred to New Delhi the next day. And he learned he was facing a possible life sentence according to section 124-A of the Indian penal code, among other charges cited in a “First Information Report” that the NIA had filed against him.
The FIR cites no fewer than nine charges ranging from “inciting disaffection towards government through words” to “fund raising for terror activities” under the Indian penal code and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which allows the authorities to detain people indefinitely. His mobile phone and computers were seized during a raid on his home in 2020, since when he has been questioned several times by the police.
Mehraj runs Wande Magazine, an online publication specialising in long-form journalism, and reports for several national media such as The Indian Express daily newspaper, The Caravan monthly and the Article 14 website. He has also worked for international media including Al Jazeera, TRT World and Deutsche Welle.
His arrest came just four days after a hearing in Srinagar on 16 March at which an NIA-appointed special court confirmed the sedition charges brought against two journalists associated with The Kashmir Walla, Fahad Shah and Abdul Aala Fazili, in connection with an article published in 2011.
Last June, RSF described the Kafkaesque nature of this case, which highlights the methods used by India’s counter-terrorism agencies to persecute Kashmiri journalists who don’t toe the line set by New Delhi’s ministry of home affairs.