Jammu's special NIA court frames charges against The Kashmir Walla editor Peerzada Fahad Shah and another person named Abdul Ala Fazili
The Jammu and Kashmir Police’s State Investigation Agency (SIA) has claimed in a chargesheet that the detained Kashmiri journalist and editor of the online magazine ‘Kashmir Wallah’ Peerzada Fahad Shah received an amount of Rs 95.59 lakh from open donations and subscriptions out of which over Rs 40 lakh came to him from foreign countries in violation of the law.
The chargesheet filed in a designated court in Jammu in October 2022 claims that the money was received by the editor through three bank accounts of the online publications in violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) as it included unauthorised foreign funding to the tune of Rs 40 lakh.
On 16 March, 2023, the designated court for SIA and NIA cases in Jammu framed charges against the detained journalist Fahad Shah and Abdul Aala Fazili, the author of a disputed article in the online publication. The counsels of the accused claim the charges are without substance and decided to challenge the same in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
The Union Territory investigation agency has further charged Shah with collecting domestic and foreign funds which, according to it, could be used for subversive purposes. According to the SIA, the subscription model followed by digital media platforms could be used by “unscrupulous elements” to pump money and foment trouble in Jammu and Kashmir.
The SIA has said that Shah’s digital magazine had been “operating on a subscription base model where the readers subscribe and pay for a certain fee”. “Unscrupulous elements can utilise this route to fund an entity to foment trouble in a region and carry out propaganda in its own interest,” the SIA has alleged and asserted that “this part is under investigation”.
According to the SIA, Shah operated three particular bank accounts through which the subscriptions worth Rs 95.59 lakh, including the foreign funding worth Rs 40 lakh, was raised in violation of the FCRA. It claimed that an amount of Rs 10.59 lakh was received through one account from the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) in 2020-21.
The chargesheet claimed that the money was transferred in three instalments even though the account was not eligible to receive foreign contributions as it was not registered under the provisions of FCRA. “Another account allegedly received approximately Rs 58 lakh, out of which Rs 30 lakh is foreign contribution by way of subscription payment… which is suspicious,” it stated.
“Reporters Sans Frontiers also popularly called reporters without borders is an organisation which supports press freedom all over the world, while in reality the entity is involved in subverting the democratic freedoms all over the world,” the SIA said in its chargesheet against the detained editor and his contributor.
Booked for an article titled ‘The shackles of slavery will break’, as published in ‘Kashmir Wallah’ on 6 November 2011, Shah and Fazili were initially charged with “glorifying terrorism and secessionism and selectively promoting Pakistan’s and the separatists’ agenda and narrative through the media”. They were arrested in February-April 2022 and booked under different provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Indian Penal Code.
While Shah was arrested on 5 February, 2022, for “glorifying militancy, spreading fake news, and inciting the public against law and order”, Fazili was arrested on 17 April, 2022, for his “highly provocative and seditious” article in the online magazine. They have been lodged in a jail in Jammu.
The SIA chargesheet claimed that oral, documentary and material evidence collected during the course of investigations established that Shah and Fazili “resurrected a platform for reviving the narrative in support of the terrorist and separatist ecosystem” under a “well-directed conspiracy and Pakistan’s efforts”.
“Under this plan, select anti-India elements within the media, guided from across, have held several secret meetings in which the adversary instructed” them “to form media platforms, especially digital platforms that are inexpensive but have wider reach; form and float associations that can conceal and camouflage such persons and screen their connections with and funding from hostile foreign agencies and terrorist/secessionist entities,” the chargesheet claimed.
The agency claimed that on 4 April, 2022, it received the printout of the “highly provocative and seditious article” from a discreet but reliable source. However, the article was not available on the portal domain as it had been “surreptitiously removed” with an attempt to destroy the evidence. Consequently, a preservation request was made to the domain provider on 11 April, 2022 and the article re-appeared on the website. This evidence was retrieved by a technical expert in presence of the Executive Magistrate Ist Class on 12 April 2022.
Calling them “contaminated and compromised media persons”, the SIA has charged Shah and his opinion contributor Fazili, then a PhD scholar with the Department of Pharmacology of the University of Kashmir, with pursuing the objective to “create, sustain, and spread disaffection, hatred and enmity against the Indian State”. Fazili, it has pointed out, continued to receive a government scholarship while pursuing his PhD and simultaneously siding with the adversary and becoming “part of a conspiracy to undermine the government of the day”.
Shah’s ‘Kashmir Walla’ is an online news magazine. The title was allotted to a Srinagar-based woman by the Registrar of Newspapers in India over a decade back. However, it did not complete the pertinent formalities of printing as per rules within 6 months of the allotment of title and thus failed to register with the Government of Jammu and Kashmir. “It has only obtained a title in 2010 or 2011 but never completed the formalities of declaration and registration. So, it is not recognised and does not exist in our records”, said an officer in the J&K Government’s Department of Information.
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