Fahad Shah, founding editor of The Kashmir Walla, was arrested Friday in Pulwama, a city in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir. The contested territory is also in part administered by Pakistan.
Shah has not been formally charged. But in a statement Friday, local police in Pulwama accused Shah of being among a group of “Facebook users” who uploaded “anti-national content including photographs, videos and posts with criminal intention to create fear among public.”
CNN Business has reached out to the Kashmir police for comment about Shah’s case, but has not received a response.
Shah’s work has been featured in several international publications including The Guardian, Time and Foreign Policy. He was awarded the 25th Human Rights Press Awards 2021 in explanatory feature writing for his coverage of Delhi communal violence in February 2020, according to The Kashmir Walla.
According to Ronga, Shah will be in police custody for 10 days.
After those 10 days, Shah will be brought before a court to decide if he will need to stay in the custody of law enforcement. A person arrested under UAPA can remain in prison for up to six months, without official charges being filed. If convicted, Shah could face up to seven years in prison.
Shah’s arrest also comes as police crack down on other journalists in Kashmir, which India and Pakistan have been fighting over since both countries gained independence in 1947.
Shah is not the first Kashmir Walla journalist to be arrested this year. Staffer Sajad Gul was arrested in January for criminal conspiracy and criminal intimidation, among other charges, according to Ronga, who is also representing him.
Gul is also being investigated for alleged violations of Kashmir’s Public Safety Act, which allows the state to detain a person for the “security of the State or maintenance of public order” for an extended period of time.
Ronga said Gul was arrested “for his ‘anti-national’ coverage, demoralizing government agencies, and amplifying terrorism.” Ronga added that Gul remains behind bars in Jammu.
CNN Business has reached out to the Kashmir police for comment about Gul’s case, but has not received a response.
The Kashmir Walla said it “stands in solidarity with Shah” and “remains committed to providing reliable and on-ground reporting from Kashmir.”
It appealed to the administration “for the immediate release of Shah and Gul.”
“We hope both of them will join us back in the newsroom soon,” the statement said.
The court was acting on a police complaint, Reuters added.
An outcry over press freedoms
News of Shah’s arrest has sent shockwaves through the country’s media industry.
The Committee to Protect Journalists also called for Shah’s release.
“The arrest of Fahad Shah shows Jammu and Kashmir authorities’ utter disregard for press freedom and the fundamental right of journalists to report freely and safely,” said Steven Butler, the organization’s Asia program coordinator, in a Saturday statement. “Authorities must immediately release Shah, and all other journalists behind bars, and cease detaining and harassing journalists for simply doing their jobs.”
From 2015 and 2019, arrests that cited the law rose by 72%, the data shows.
However, the conviction rate is low: From 2016 to 2019, 5,922 people were arrested under UAPA, but just 132 were convicted.
The report emphasized particular concern over worsening conditions for reporters in Kashmir.
“The situation is still very worrying in Kashmir,” the report said. “Reporters are often harassed by police and paramilitaries and must cope with utterly Orwellian content regulations, and where media outlets are liable to be closed.”
— CNN’s Mukhtar Ahmad contributed to this report.