Srinagar, November 18
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court (HC) has granted bail to journalists Fahad Shah and Sajad Gul, who spent nearly two years in jail under charges that included sedition and being anti-national.
Fahad Shah, the 35-year-old editor of The Kashmir Walla, faced an array of charges, including abetting terrorism, waging war against the country, and promoting enmity under the UAPA.
However, on Friday, the court quashed several of these charges, including those under Sections 18 (abetting terrorist acts), 121 (waging war) and 153-B (promoting enmity between different groups) under the Act.
Shah will, nonetheless, continue to face trial under Section 13 (incitement of unlawful activity) of the UAPA and Sections 35 and 39 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), dealing with receiving funds in violation of the law. Sajad Gul, a trainee reporter with The Kashmir Walla, faced a similar fate. Arrested on January 6, 2022, he was booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) on January 16, just a day after being granted bail in another case.
“Both Fahad and Sajad have been granted bail. We hope they will be released on Monday after completion of some legal formalities,” a colleague of Shah told The Tribune.
The court decision comes seven months after it had quashed Shah’s detention under the PSA, deeming it a “mere surmise” of the detaining authority and criticised the authorities for violating his constitutional and legal rights.
Senior advocate PN Raina, counsel for Shah, said the court’s decision not only quashed charges against his client related to the UAPA, but also expressed a need to expedite the trial process. “The court has observed that the provisions of the UAPA are being misused to detain the accused for long periods,” Raina said.
In February 2022, Shah was arrested over a report published by The Kashmir Walla about an encounter in Pulwama. The police accused him of “uploading anti-national content” with the intention of creating fear among the public.
Shah has managed to secure bail in three cases so far, but the PSA allows preventive detention for up to two years.
Shah’s PSA dossier alleged that his “activities seem to be prejudicial to the sovereignty, security, integrity, peace and tranquility of the UT of J&K and also the Union of India”. The dossier also accused Shah of arranging “logistical support for anti-national activities” and “inciting violence”, terming him a “threat to public order”.
Fahad Shah’s arrest had sparked condemnation from journalists globally. In recent years, press freedom in India has faced severe challenges, with the country slipping to the 161st rank among 180 nations.
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