Centre blocks Kashmir-based news website as editor remains in jail

The Kashmir Walla staff also admitted to having received an eviction notice from the owner of the property that houses its office.

In yet another blow to the press freedom, the Centre blocked the website and social media accounts of a Srinagar-based independent news portal, The Kashmir Walla, on Saturday August 19, while its founder-editor Fahad Shah remains incarcerated. However, there has been no official order or notice so far as to why the blockade was imposed.

Their Facebook and Twitter (now X) pages, with nearly half a million followers, have also been withheld ‘in response to a legal demand’ by Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, under the IT Act of 2000.

According to a statement, shared by interim editor of the portal Yashraj Sharma, when they asked their service provider why the website kashmirwalla.com was inaccessible, they were told that it had been blocked in Indian by ministry of electronics and information technology under the IT Act of 200.

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The staff also admitted to having received an eviction notice from the owner of the property that houses its office.

The statement further reads: “This opaque censorship is gut-wrenching. There isn’t a lot left for us to say anymore. Since 2011, The Kashmir Walla has strived to remain an independent, credible, and courageous voice of the region in the face of unimaginable pressure from the authorities while we watched our being ripped apart, bit by bit. The Kashmir Walla’s story is the tale of the rise and fall of press freedom in the region… As to what the future holds, we are still processing the ongoing events.”

The blockade comes at a time when its founder-editor Fahad Shah, remains in jail under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), among other charges such as conspiracy for a terrorist act, unlawful activities, attempting to wage war against the government of India, causing disappearance of evidence, assertions prejudicial to national integration and accepting foreign currency in contravention of the law, and the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).

 

 

Shah was questioned about an article related to a shootout in Pulwama, which The Kashmir Walla had published in 2011, and arrested subsequently. He has now spent more than 500 days in prison.

Sajad Gul, a journalism student and trainee reporter at The Kashmir Walla has also been imprisoned, since 2022, under the Public Safety Act (PSA) among other charges.

Several journalists and activists, including Geeta Seshu, founding editor of the Free Speech Collective and Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Kashmir Times, castigated the authorities over the move, calling it a violation of the right to the freedom of expression and lack of press freedom in Kashmir.

 

 

Several international organisations such as the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Shah’s arrest and urged the Indian government to release him soon.

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