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We’ll Take Action Against Those Who Hide Behind Freedom of Speech to Provoke People: New J&K DGP

DGP R.R. Swain’s remarks came a day after the J&K high court struck down the charges against journalist Fahad Shah under sections of the UAPA, while granting him bail in an anti-terror case.
J&K DGP R.R. Swain. Photo: X@JmuKmrPolice

New Delhi: Seeking to draw a link between unknown ‘writers’ and militancy recruitment in Kashmir, Director General of J&K Police (DGP), R.R. Swain, has, without specifying any examples, warned that any such ‘writing’ will be treated as an ‘act of terrorism’.

Speaking with reporters in Srinagar on Saturday, November 18, Swain said that the recruitment of Kashmiri youngsters by militant groups shall be “treated as an act of terror” and the people who purportedly “help or facilitate” militant recruitment “are equally liable if not more”.

“There would be a sustained action against people who motivate and recruit (youngsters into militancy in J&K). Even people who write very differently, they are also liable for encouraging recruitment,” DGP Swain said.

“We will take action against those who hide behind the freedom of speech and expression to provoke people. We will not tolerate it,” he added.

The newly appointed DGP’s remarks came a day after the J&K high court struck down the charges against journalist Fahad Shah under Sections 18 (terror conspiracy) and 121 (waging war against the country) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA). The high court granted him bail in an anti-terror case.

The State Investigation Agency (SIA) had filed the case under various Sections of the UAPA and Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA), after it claimed to have received “source information” that The Kashmir Walla, a Srinagar-based news outlet run by Shah, had published an article which was part of an “ongoing operation” to “break up the Indian Union” and “secession of J&K from India and its consequent accession to Pakistan”.

Shah and Aala Fazili, a University of Kashmir scholar who had authored the piece titled ‘The shackles of slavery will break’, were booked and arrested in the case earlier this year.

As the head of the Criminal Investigation Department, J&K Police’s elite counter-terrorism wing, DGP Swain was leading the SIA when the case was filed on April 4, 2022 (FIR No: 01/2022) at the CIJ police station in Jammu, and Aala and Shah were booked.

In its charge-sheet, the elite agency, which has overarching powers to take over militancy cases in J&K, has claimed that the article was part of a “terror conspiracy” hatched by Pakistan to “incite violence” in Jammu and Kashmir, which had led to “disturbance in public order”.

Aala and Shah were accused of breach of peace, terrorism and waging war against the country.

However, Shah’s counsel and senior advocate P.N. Raina rejected the charges, arguing that the SIA had “mysteriously” discovered the article 11 years after its publication and that there was no evidence of violence, breach of peace or any terror attack after the publication of the article.

Hearing Shah’s bail application, a division bench of the high court observed that the article called for secession of Jammu and Kashmir from India and also accused the Government of India for committing genocide of Kashmiris.

However, in the absence of evidence of material damage caused to life or property by the purported write-up, which the prosecution sought to define as a ‘terrorist act’ under Section 15 (1) (a) (ii) of the UAPA, the bench didn’t agree that the controversial article was an “attack on the country” and an “act of terrorism”.

“If this argument is accepted, it would literally turn criminal law on its head. It would mean that any criticism of the central government can be described as a terrorist act,” the bench of Justices Mohan Lal and Atul Sreedharan said.

The court observed that none of the six prosecution witnesses examined so far in the trial have testified that there was any breach of peace or attack on security forces due to the publication of the article in The Kashmir Walla.

Instead, the court linked the write-up to the freedom of speech and expression while granting bail to Shah, who will now face trial under Section 13 (abetting unlawful activities) of the UAPA and FCRA violations.

The court had framed the charges against Aala and Shah in March this year.

Shah, who has been booked in three other cases by J&K Police, was also taken into preventive detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA) earlier this year. However, the PSA proceedings were also quashed by the high court.

The SIA, which probed the case against The Kashmir Walla, was formed after the reading down of Article 370 for “speedy and effective investigation and prosecution of militancy-related cases” in Jammu and Kashmir.

The National Conference and Peoples’ Democratic Party, among other regional parties, had expressed concerns over the SIA’s formation, saying it was “aimed to strengthen the repressive apparatus” in Jammu and Kashmir.

However, the J&K administration, which is run by the Union home ministry, had sought to allay the apprehensions by arguing that the agency was an important step to curb terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

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