Who will be next in Indian police persecution of Kashmir magazine’s journalists?

The interim editor of The Kashmir Walla, an online magazine in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, has been summoned by this northern region’s counter-terrorism agency over an article published 11 years ago. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns this latest round in India’s persecution of the magazine’s journalists, who are being jailed one after another, and wonders who will be next.

Yashraj Sharma, the interim editor, is 23 years old, which means he was only 12 when The Kashmir Walla published the allegedly “seditious” article in 2011. The State Investigation Agency nonetheless used it as grounds for giving him until yesterday to report for questioning at a police station in Miran Sahib, a suburb of Jammu, a town that is 250 km south of the region's main city, Srinagar, where Sharma and the magazine are based.

The summons followed the arrest on 18 April of the offending article’s presumed author, Abdul Aala Fazili, an academic who is still detained. Sharma has been acting as editor only because the magazine’s regular editor, Fahad Shah, is himself also jailed.

Life sentence

After Shah’s arbitrary arrest on 4 February, which RSF condemned at the time, he was freed on bail on 26 February only to be re-arrested. A court ordered him released again on 5 March but, once again, he was immediately returned to prison.

Ten days later, the Srinagar prosecutor’s office finally charged Shah under the Public Safety Act (PSA) on the grounds that, according to the police, he was a “hard-headed and scheming person” who had followed “radical ideology from his childhood.” For this he is facing the possibility of life imprisonment.

“The authorities running Jammu and Kashmir are hounding The Kashmir Walla’s staff with such blatant relentlessness that one can only wonder who will be next,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Their treatment of this magazine’s staff is truly unworthy of a democracy that is supposed to respect the rule of law. We call on India’s Supreme Court justices to immediately examine these repeated violations of the fundamental rights of citizens whose only crime is to practice independent journalism.”

News black hole

RSF already sounded the alarm nearly a year and a half ago, when Sajad Gul, a reporter for The Kashmir Walla, was arrested in the early hours of 6 January 2021 for the sole reason that he had posted a video of a protest on Twitter. Released on bail after a year, he was quickly rearrested and charged under the PSA. He remains in prison and also faces a possible life sentence.

The Kashmir Walla is one of a handful of media outlets in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir that are still trying to keep alive the flame of independent, demanding journalism despite New Delhi’s constant attempts to silence them. It was for this reason that Shah was nominated for the RSF Prize for Courage in 2020.

After Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy was rescinded in August 2019, all forms of communication with the region were cut off for several months. The local government, which follows New Delhi’s orders, has been guilty of repeated blatant press freedom violations ever since, turning the region into a news and information black hole.

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Publié le 03.06.2022