Kashmiri journalist Fahad Shah has earned his freedom after 655 days of detention, following three bails from different courts and a high court rap on a government that had appeared bent on keeping him in jail on any pretext.
Shah’s release spurred immediate calls to lift the "ban" on his news portal, The Kashmir Walla.
Family sources said Shah returned to his Srinagar home quietly on Thursday after he was released from Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu on Wednesday.
A week ago, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh had granted Shah bail on terror conspiracy charges and castigated the government for digging out an old case against him after he had been bailed twice by other courts.
There had been uncertainty over Shah's release as many feared the government might further prolong his detention.
“He was released from jail yesterday. He visited our office in the evening. He was looking frail but in good spirits,” a member of his legal team said in Jammu.
The Asia chapter of the US-based media watchdog, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), welcomed Shah’s release and said he should be allowed to resume his publication.
“...CPJ welcomes his release on bail. All charges against Shah must be dropped and the ban on his publication The Kashmir Walla @tkwmag revoked,” CPJ Asia posted on X.
Shah was editor of The Kashmir Walla, a news magazine turned website, which was pulled down by the Union IT ministry on August 19 this year under provisions of the IT Act, 2000. He had been arrested on February 5, 2022.
The website was among a handful of media outlets that were seen as speaking truth to power in Kashmir following the August 2019 scrapping of the special status.
Kashmiri politicians welcomed Shah’s release.
“Glad to see @pzfahad reunited with his family. The vindictiveness with which the government is targeting journalists in Kashmir will be mainstreamed in India if we don’t speak up. Fahad Shah did not deserve to go to jail, much less for 500+ days. The process is punishment,” Congress leader Salman Anees Soz said.
The CPJ re-posted a statement that had been released in August and had demanded the unblocking of the website and social media accounts of the outlet.
“The Indian government’s arbitrary ban on The Kashmir Walla’s website and social media accounts marks a new low for press freedom in the region,” Beh Lih Yi, the CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator, had said in the statement.
“If the Indian government aims to be taken seriously as a democracy, it must promptly reinstate The Kashmir Walla’s website and accounts, and put an end to the persecution, harassment, and arrest of journalists in Kashmir.”