A magistrate in India’s Jammu and Kashmir region approved the detention of the respected Kashmiri journalist and editor Fahad Shah under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) on the grounds that he had been “misguiding common masses by circulating fake news against the government and its policies.”
The government frequently invokes the law because it permits detentions without trial for up to two years on vague grounds of preventing the suspect “from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the State or the maintenance of public order." Basically, the authorities use the PSA to arbitrarily detain people without evidence. Human Rights Watch has documented cases in which the PSA is invoked to block detainees from being released when they are granted bail.
Shah’s colleagues and legal counsel allege the authorities decided to use the PSA because the courts had repeatedly ordered his release on bail. Shah, 33, was first arrested on February 4 on allegations that included terrorism and sedition. His work included reporting allegations of wrongful killings by security forces. “Sensing that the Hon’ble Special Court may grant bail as the allegations levelled against the accused do not prima facie connect him with the commission on any offence,” stated Shah’s lawyer, Umair Ronga. “The authorities have taken recourse to J&K Public Safety Act.”
The authorities have arbitrarily detained thousands of Kashmiris under the PSA since the Indian government revoked the Jammu and Kashmir’s special autonomous status in 2019. Dozens of Kashmiri journalists have faced police interrogation, raids, threats, physical assault, and fabricated criminal cases for their reporting.
Shah’s detention order accuses him of ignoring stories related to “good governance or positive interventions” by the government. So here is an idea: If the government revoked the PSA and other much-abused legislation like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the colonial-era sedition law, journalists would have some good news to report. The government should give that a try.