Journalist Fahad Shah, in custody on terror charges for 21 months, has received bail from a court for the third time amid uncertainty whether he might at last be released now.
The High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh on Friday quashed several charges, including that of terror conspiracy, against Shah, who had last year been twice rearrested immediately after receiving bail from different courts.
The then editor of the now-closed news magazine turned portal, The Kashmir Walla, had been arrested on February 5 last year after he reported the claim by a Pulwama family that their son — killed in a purported gunfight — was not a militant.
A member of Shah’s legal team said it was waiting for a copy of the judgment. “It will be presented before the police to secure his release. We are expecting his release soon,” he said.
The legal team member added that the bench of Justices Sreedharan and Mohan Lal Manhas had quashed certain charges against Shah, such as terror conspiracy and waging war against the country (covered under Sections 18 and 121 of the terror law UAPA).
Shah will, however, continue to face trial under Section 13 of the UAPA (abetting unlawful activities) and certain sections of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.
The high court had in April this year quashed Shah’s detention under the Public Safety Act, which allows detention without trial. The court rapped the detaining authority for snatching Shah’s “constitutional and legal rights” and termed the allegations against him “vague and bald assertions”.
The court said “the apprehension of an adverse impact (on) public order” from reports that had appeared on Shah’s portal was “a mere surmise of the detaining authority”.
Shah had received bail from a National Investigation Agency court on February 26 last year, three weeks after his arrest, but was arrested in a different UAPA case before he could walk free. Seven days later, he received bail from a local court, only to be rearrested.
When Shah was arrested the first time, the police had accused him of glorifying militancy, spreading fake news, and inciting the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Three FIRs were lodged against him at different police stations.
The police have rejected the Pulwama family’s claims that Shah had reported, alleging the slain youth was a “hybrid (clandestine) militant” and was killed along with three other rebels at his home in Naira village.
The State Investigation Agency later accused Shah of “narrative terrorism”, the first time any agency had used the term against anybody here.
On August 19 this year, the Union IT ministry pulled down The Kashmir Walla website under provisions of the Information and Technology Act, 2000.
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.
On November 9, Justice M.A. Choudhary quashed the PSA detention of Shah’s colleague and journalist Sajad Gul and ordered his release. Gul, a trainee reporter, had been picked up before Shah.