Fahad Shah’s imprisonment: Of Eid, Press Freedom Day, and melancholy

Fahad Shah, Kashmir Walla
Fahad Shah in Kashmir Walla newsroom on Eid-ul-Fitr in 2020. The Kashmir Walla photograph.

Srinagar: The rain in Kashmir could not dampen the festive mood of Eid-ul-Fitr for us as the holy month of Ramzan culminated. The absence of our editor-in-chief Fahad Shah did.

On this blissful occasion, The Kashmir Walla team is indeed heavy-hearted as Shah remains behind the bars, under a stringent preventive detention law, nearly a hundred kilometers — or a world apart — from us.

When the staff would go on the Eid break, Shah would rather be in the newsroom. Over time, it became a ritual. As everyone marks the Press Freedom Day, Shah today completes three months in custody.

He was initially arrested on 4 February by the Pulwama police under the infamous anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and sedition after The Kashmir Walla reported the events at a gunfight. He was bailed by a special court in Srinagar. But then the authorities arrested Shah four times within 40 days, in different cases registered against The Kashmir Walla’s reporting. The arrest-bail-arrest saga was stopped when he was arrested under the Public Safety Act, which allows the authorities to detain a person without formal charges or a trial for up to 2 years, on 14 March. He remains lodged in the Kupwara Jail, in north Kashmir.

Shah pivoted the independent journalism in Kashmir when he started The Kashmir Walla as a college student, in his early twenties, after he dumped the idea of pursuing engineering. A typical tale, we often thought. Of patience, learning, unlearning, and endurance. Of a parvaaz.

Marking the international day to celebrate freedom of the press today feels shallow if not for the tremendous sacrifices of pressers across the world to preserve the idea of democracy and its values.

As The Kashmir Walla team stands with Shah’s family in these testing times, we continue to be of faith that Shah would return to the newsroom soon. We reiterate our appeal to Manoj Sinha-led Jammu and Kashmir administration to drop all charges against Shah and The Kashmir Walla’s work and facilitate his immediate release. 

Keep us in your prayers. Eid Mubarak toihe saarni Kashmir Walla hind tar’fe.

The Kashmir Walla needs you, urgently. Only you can do it.

We have always come to you for help: The Kashmir Walla is battling at multiple fronts — and if you don’t act now, it would be too late. 2020 was a year like no other and we walked into it already battered. The freedom of the press in Kashmir was touching new lows as the entire population was gradually coming out of one of the longest communication blackouts in the world.

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