Digital Media’s Subscription Model Can Be Used to ‘Foment Trouble’: J&K Probe Agency

By Umer Maqbool. Dated: 4/2/2023 9:14:16 AM

SRINAGAR, Apr 01: The state investigation agency (SIA) of J&K Police, which probes militancy-related cases, has claimed in a charge-sheet filed against The Kashmir Walla editor, Peerzada Fahad Shah, that the subscription model of digital media platforms can be used by “unscrupulous elements” to “foment trouble” in a region, The Wire has reported.
It also said that Reporters Sans Frontiers – the Paris-based press freedom watchdog which ranked India at 150 out of 180 countries in terms of media freedom in 2022 – is “subverting the democratic freedoms all over the world”.
The charge-sheet names research scholar Abdul Aala Fazili, along with Shah, for an article published in the Srinagar-based digital news magazine in 2011.
The allegations
In its charge-sheet, which was filed in October 2022, the probe agency claimed: “The digital magazine The Kashmir Walla was operating on a subscription-based model where readers subscribe and pay a certain fee. The unscrupulous elements can utilise this route to fund an entity to foment trouble in a region and carry out propaganda in its own interest (sic). This part is under investigation.”
It alleged the analysis of other write-ups published in The Kashmir Walla has brought to the fore that “these select anti-India elements within the media, who are on the payroll of ISI [of Pakistan], have formed these platforms that are inexpensive but have wider reach …”.
“A subscription model of circulation has enabled funding by like-minded separatists who have camouflaged the funding under the guise of readership programmes,” it said, adding that almost 40 articles published by the news outlet fall in the category of “seditious matter/anti-India/glorifying terrorists/narrative terrorism”.
The SIA has even accused the RSF of subverting democratic freedoms all over the world.
“Regarding the entity RSF, popularly called as Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that supports press freedom all over the world, while in reality the entity is involved in subverting the democratic freedoms all over the world,” the charge-sheet said.
It added that although RSF claims to be a neutral organisation, its objectivity and the validity of its worldwide press freedom index have been questioned. “It is asserted that RSF is unfairly critical of South Asian countries, especially India, and Latin American countries,” it said.
The SIA, in the charge-sheet, said the HDFC bank account in the name of The Kashmir Walla received foreign funding to the tune of [Rs 10.59 lakh] Rs 1059163 from RSF through Western Union money transfer in three installments.
“RSF was also contacted via email as available on the internet regarding the purpose of money transfer, but the [probe] agency received no reply from the organisation. The Kashmir Walla also failed to provide any documentation in this regard,” it claimed.
SIA said that RSF’s source of funding is highly suspicious. “The matter has been taken up at CID headquarters level (sic) and [if] anything comes to notice, [that] will be included by way of [a] supplementary charge-sheet,” it added.
The Wire has sought a response from the RSF on the claims made by the J&K police against it in the charge-sheet. The story will be updated as and when they reply.
Militancy links
The SIA claimed that the 2011 article is “believed to have been one of the reasons to ignite feelings of jihad amongst gullible youth who fall prey to this narrative and are often motivated to take part in the so-called freedom struggle”.
The SIA claimed that the number of local youth who joined militancy after 2011 increased manifold. However, the statistics given in the charge-sheet show that the number of locals who joined militancy ranks in 2013 was less than 2012, but it increased thereafter.
According to data in the charge-sheet, 20 locals joined militancy in 2012, which reduced to 16 in 2013. The numbers, however, continued to increase after 2013 with 53 people joining militancy ranks in 2014, 66 in 2015, 88 in 2016, 126 in 2017 and 193 in 2018.
The SIA also alleged that Fazili was in touch with two persons – Eesa Fazli and Dr. Muhammad Rafi – who joined militancy ranks and were killed in gunfights with forces.
When a case was registered against the duo in April last year, Fahad was already in detention under the Public Safety Act while Fazili was arrested on April 17, 2022, from his home.
Fahad was booked under Sections 13 and 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act-1967 and 120-B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.
Fazili was also booked under Sections 13 and 18 of UAPA, and sections 121 (waging, or attempting to wage war, against Government of India), 124 (assaulting president, governor, etc., with intent to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power), 153-B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) of the Indian Penal Code.
Fahad was first arrested by the Pulwama police on February 4, 2022. He was granted bail by a court after 22 days but was re-arrested in another case registered in the Shopian district. On March 6, 2022, he got bail in the case registered against the magazine for its reporting in January 2021 in Shopian, but he was again arrested in another case registered by the Srinagar police against the magazine’s report in May 2020.
Subsequently, he was also booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA), under which a person can be detained without trial for a period of up to two years.
In December 2022, Fahad was granted bail in the case registered against him in Srinagar. He continues to be in jail for the case registered against him for the article written by Ala Fazili.
In February this year, journalists from around the world demanded the Government of India to immediately release Fahad .
“Mr. Shah’s case is a sharp reminder of the need to strengthen free voices as efforts to shut them down intensify daily around the globe. His release is particularly important to the cause of free press in Kashmir. We, the undersigned, call on authorities to release Mr. Shah immediately and to respect his standing as an independent journalist,” read a joint statement issued by Mark Sappenfield (editor, The Christian Science Monitor), Ravi Agrawal (editor-in-chief, Foreign Policy), Boyoung Lim (senior editor, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting) and Katharine Viner (editor-in-chief, The Guardian), among others.
Currently, three other journalists from the Kashmir Valley are in prison under anti-terror laws and PSA. They are Irfan Mehraj, Sajad Gul and Asif Sultan.
Criticism against RSF
This is not the first time when the government or any agency has been critical of the RSF.
The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has also questioned the World Press Freedom Index published by the RSF.
“The World Press Freedom Index is published by a foreign non-government organisation, Reporters Without Borders. The government does not subscribe to its views and country rankings and does not agree to the conclusions drawn by this organisation for various reasons, including very low sample size, little or no weightage to fundamentals of democracy, adoption of a methodology which is questionable and non-transparent, lack of clear definition of press freedom, among others,” Union I&B minister Anurag Thakur had told parliament in December 2021.
Umer Maqbool is a Srinagar-based independent journalist.



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