Fahad Shah, the founding editor of The Kashmir Walla, an independent news outlet in Indian-administered Kashmir, has been released on bail after nearly two years of imprisonment under India's sedition and anti-terror laws.
According to BBC, Shah was arrested in February 2022 for allegedly publishing "anti-national content."
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Kashmir's special status and split the region into two union territories in 2019, the Indian government has tightened its control over the region.
Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in its entirety, leading to a decades-long territorial dispute that has been a source of tension and violence between the two nuclear-armed countries.
The Line of Control, a de facto border that divides the area, has been a flashpoint in the conflict. Critics argue that the BJP government's actions have restricted freedom of expression and increased government repression in the region.
Shah’s arrest sparked outrage among media rights organizations in and out of India.
Steven Butler, Committee to Protect Journalists Asia program, at the time said:
“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,”
Aside from running The Kashmir Walla, Shah’s work has been featured in 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 communal violence in Delhi in February 2020.
India, with a population of 1.4 billion people, is the world’s largest democracy and one of the largest media markets in the world.
However, the Modi administration has been accused repeatedly of intimidating the press, stifling free speech and censoring independent news organizations.
In the annual World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, India has dropped from 140th in 2014 — the year Modi came to power — to 161 out of 180 nations in this year’s list. That puts India below countries like Laos, the Philippines and neighboring Pakistan.
“Reporters are often harassed by police and paramilitaries, with some being subjected to so-called “provisional” detention for several years.”
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