Kashmir: Scholar Arrested for 2011 Article; Fresh Charges on 'Kashmir Walla' Editor

The J&K State Investigation Agency called the article titled 'The Shackles of Slavery Will Break', which was published by 'The Kashmir Walla' in November 2011, "seditious".

Srinagar: A post-doctoral scholar at the University of Kashmir has been arrested by J&K Police’s recently created anti-terror agency, over an article he wrote for The Kashmir Walla, a Srinagar-based digital media outlet, whose editor Fahad Shah has been languishing in jail since February this year.

The arrest of Abdul Aala Fazili, a PhD scholar at the Kashmir University’s Pharmaceutical Department, comes days after a prominent law professor, Sheikh Showkat Hussain, was sacked as the principal of Kashmir Law College on charges of being a “hard-line ideologue of Pakistan-backed separatist organisations”.

According to reports, a team of J&K’s elite State Investigation Agency (SIA), which was formed last year for exclusively probing terrorism cases, raided the residence of Aala in Humhama on the outskirts of Srinagar on Sunday, April 17. Simultaneous raids were carried out at Fahad’s residence and The Kashmir Walla office in Srinagar.

In a statement, the agency said Aala was arrested in connection with FIR No. 01/2022 filed at JIC Police Station of SIA’s Jammu wing under Section 13 (advocating, abetting, advising or inciting unlawful activity) and Section 18 (sets out the quantum of punishment for involvement in such activity) of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Also read: ‘Misuse of PSA’: Press Bodies Condemn Re-Arrest of Kashmiri Journalist Aasif Sultan

The agency has also invoked Section 121 (waging war against the Government of India), Section 124 (spreading disaffection against the government), Section 153-B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) in the FIR, in which Fahad has been named as an accused.

Kashmir Walla editor-in-chief Fahad Shah. Photo: Fahad Shah/Facebook

It is the fourth FIR against The Kashmir Walla‘s editor, who has so far secured bail in two cases, and if convicted, he could spend life in jail. The SIA spokesperson said the search teams seized “incriminating evidence, which includes computers, laptops and other digital equipments” during the raids at three places. Fahad is presently lodged at a jail in Kupwara.

Aala, who was a vocal voice in Kashmir’s human rights circuit before Article 370 was read down, had authored a piece titled ‘The Shackles of Slavery Will Break’ which was published by The Kashmiri Walla on November 6, 2011. The SIA described the article as “highly provocative, seditious and intended to create unrest in Jammu and Kashmir” while adding that it was written “with the purpose of abetting the youth to take the path of violence by glorifying terrorism”.

The article, written in the backdrop of three years of unrest between 2008 and 2010 in the Kashmir Valley which brought the international focus back on the Kashmir issue after years of uneasy calm, was published by the Srinagar-based media outlet with the disclaimer that “it does not necessarily reflect The Kashmir Walla’s editorial policy”.

Meanwhile, Aala was selected for a UGC-sponsored Maulana Azad National Fellowship which, the SIA said “entitles him to Rs 30,000 per month for five years till March 2021”. He was a prominent voice on human rights issues on TV programmes and social media when Kashmir was sucked into a fresh spell of violence following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in 2016.

Also Read: ‘Misuse of PSA’: Press Bodies Condemn Re-Arrest of Kashmiri Journalist Aasif Sultan

“We may not have succeeded in chasing India out yet,” Aala, who has been questioned by the National Investigations Agency in 2017 in connection with the ‘terror funding’ case, had said in the article. He goes on:

“But certainly we have succeeded in shaking their hold over Kashmir and creating ripples within their establishments – we have succeeded in tearing their mask of non-violence and democracy – we have exposed their demonic criminal conduct before their conscientious people – they stand demoralized – their confidence is shaken – their rhetoric of arrogance is changing – their claim of integral part has no takers anymore.”

In 2010, more than 100 civilians, mostly teenagers, were shot dead by security forces in retaliatory action against a wave of mass protests across Kashmir that threatened to bring down Omar Abdullah’s government. In the three years since 2008, more than 200 civilians were killed while hundreds were maimed by security forces in iron-handed measures against protesters which were condemned by human rights groups across the globe.

“India has been a tyrant to us, but by forgetting their crimes we will become an accomplice.… India may have succeeded in killing our people – in arresting and torturing our people – in destroying our properties – in brutalising our society, but they will never succeed in the death of our dreams – the dream of free Kashmir – the dream of justice – the dream of living a dignified and prosperous life – the dream of living a life without fear,” Aala had written in that controversial article.

Quoting some of the excerpts, the SIA spokesperson said it employed “prescriptive language with instructional intent, encouraging secessionist elements to carry out terror activities” by making “a repeated reference to freedom and terror outfits’ rhetoric”. “It is an articulation of Pakistan ISI and the vision of its sponsored terrorist secessionist networks,” the SIA said.

In a statement, The Kashmir Walla said the laptops of two reporters, another from the outlet’s multimedia department, six hard drives and five CDs were seized during the raid. “They also checked reporting dairies and phones of two reporters, who reached the office during the raid. The Kashmir Walla co-operated with the officials during the raid and facilitated the formalities,” the outlet said, adding that a laptop of another staffer, a tablet and a voice recorder were seized from Fahad’s residence.

“We condemn the seizure of reporters’ gadgets and other equipment at the office and at Shah’s residence. We yet again call upon the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha-led administration to withdraw the charges against Shah and the work of The Kashmir Walla,” the statement added.

The arrest of Aala comes over a week after Sheikh Showkat, who also served as a law professor at the Kashmir University and the Central University of Kashmir, was sacked on April 10 for participating in a 2016 seminar titled ‘Azadi – The Only Way’ along with Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Arundhati Roy, S.A.R. Geelani and others at Press Club of India, New Delhi. The Delhi Police has reportedly filed a case under Section 124 A (sedition), 120 B (criminal conspiracy) and 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code in connection with the seminar.

“It is learnt that he (Prof Showkat) has received about Rs 5.1 crore as salary and another Rs 3.3 crore as additional allowances under different heads. He also is in receipt of a pension of more than Rs 1 lakh per month. Competent public authority is actively considering invoking relevant provisions of pension-related laws that authorises the state to forfeit pension when there is credible evidence of acting as a covert ideologue of secessionist and terrorist networks to justify violence and separatist politics projecting it as moral and desirable,” reports, quoting official sources, said.

“A complex auditing process has been devised by the authorities in higher education establishment to assess and quantity (sic) the harm such persons have inflicted and to the extent they have impaired the value and normal function of education institutions,” an unnamed J&K official said, according to reports.