This article appeared in the September 19, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Press freedom, democracy, and Fahad Shah

Dar Yasin/AP
Kashmiri children walk past paramilitary soldiers near the site of a grenade explosion in Srinagar, India, in August. India annexed Kashmir in 2019 and instituted a highly restrictive media policy the following year.

Fahad Shah, editor of The Kashmir Walla newspaper and a Monitor contributor, was jailed in February in response to stories that Indian authorities said were “glorifying terrorist activities.” He remains behind bars, having repeatedly made bail only to be rearrested on a new charge.

Between March and May, Fahad was held under “preventive detention,” which allows incarceration for two years without charges. A new case under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, centered on an 11-year-old guest opinion piece, resulted in him being moved to a jail in Jammu, far from his family, who cannot travel. That has left Fahad isolated as his health deteriorates, colleagues say.

In addition to highlighting the cost to an individual journalist, Fahad’s story is a cautionary tale about the anti-democratic – and thus, anti-press – forces gathering strength globally. 

At the recent congress of the International Press Institute, held this year at Columbia University in New York, a global array of journalists delved into disinformation, online abuse, imprisonment, impunity, and more. Carlos Dada, founder of the El Salvadoran publication El Faro and a winner of IPI’s 2022 World Press Freedom Hero Award, said in his acceptance, “Every one of [more than 2,000 journalists killed since 1992] paid the ultimate price for informing ... for denouncing corruption, for walking into organized crime territory or investigating injustices against underprivileged people, crimes against the environment, against humanity. Most of those deaths remain unpunished.”

Siddharth Varadarajan, a founding editor of the Indian publication The Wire, says the media are particularly targeted in Jammu and Kashmir. “Two journalists – Fahad Shah and Sajad Gul – have been jailed for nearly 9 months because their reporting and social media posts have annoyed the authorities. ... The aim is to intimidate the wider media fraternity rather than to prove trumped up charges in an open trial.”

Indeed, that repression and threat of jail have sharply curtailed the work of The Kashmir Walla and forced layoffs. The publication is struggling financially. Yet, as Mr. Dada said, “the world we want to be part of needs an independent press that ... puts its methods at the service of truth and better understanding why we live the way we live.”

This article appeared in the September 19, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 09/19 edition
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