The website and social media handles of news website The Kashmir Walla were blocked on August 19, according to a statement issued by the website.
The statement said the website’s service provider told them it “has been blocked in India by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology under the IT Act, 2000”. Their Facebook and Twitter pages have been withheld too.
The statement said that “in tandem”, The Kashmir Walla was “served an eviction notice by the landlord of our office in Srinagar”.
The website’s editor Fahad Shah had been arrested in February last year under various terrorism charges. Despite securing bail twice, he was rearrested by the J&K police and eventually booked under the Public Safety Act, which allows imprisonment without a trial for up to a year.
In October, he was along with a research scholar Abdul Aala Fazili for “narrative terrorism” over Fazili’s report for Shah’s website 11 years ago.
Shah had first been arrested for purportedly sharing “anti-national” content on social media. The Kashmir Walla’s statement said this was the “beginning of the saga of his revolving door arrests” and that he was arrested five times in four months.
In January 2022, a trainee reporter with the website, Sajad Gul, was arrested and charged with “criminal conspiracy”. The statement said Gul remains in prison in Uttar Pradesh under the Public Safety Act.
“This opaque censorship is gut-wrenching. There isn’t a lot left for us to say anymore,” the statement said. “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.”
Digipub, an association of independent digital news organisations in India, issued a statement on August 21 saying these events “reflect a pattern of arbitrary misuse of the law to silence the media in Kashmir, where the government’s actions for four years have had a chilling effect on journalists, journalism, and the fundamental right to free speech”.
“If this degree of intimidation were to be accepted and normalised, it will threaten the very existence of the free press and democracy in India,” the statement said. “Digipub calls on the government to make transparent the reasons for shutting down The Kashmir Walla and end the persecution of the media and journalists in Kashmir.”
Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists called it a “new low for press freedom in the region”.
“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,” , CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. CPJ noted that it was able to access The Kashmir Walla website and social media accounts from the United States.
Read on how Fahad Shah’s arrest reveals a strange pattern in how Kashmir journalists are targeted.