Shahina K.K, an Indian journalist was among the four recipients of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) International Press Freedom Awards. The awards ceremony held in New York City was chaired by Meredith Kopit Levien, president and CEO of The New York Times Company, who recognized Shahina for her undying commitment to journalism despite facing legal challenges and harassment. She has dedicated her career to shedding light on critical issues such as gender, human rights, and marginalized communities.
Shahina, also known as Shahini Nafeesa is a veteran Indian journalist who has worked across print and broadcast media to shed light on issues such as gender, human rights, and marginalized communities, along with the injustices they face. CPJ has been documenting the myriad ways in which she has been attacked and intimidated since at least 2010.
Shahina, currently a senior editor for Outlook magazine, was one of the first journalists in India to be charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, a draconian anti-terror law extensively weaponized against journalists in the country for over a decade.
She has continued her reporting in various posts despite awaiting trial for a case opened in 2010, when local government officials in Karnataka state sought to criminalize her reporting published in Tehelka, a prominent investigative magazine where she worked at the time. Her report cast doubt on a police investigation into 2008 bomb blasts in Bengaluru, alleging that the police had fabricated witness statements to arrest a local Muslim cleric.
She faces three charges under the penal code, including criminal intimidation, intent to commit a criminal act, and criminal conspiracy, and one count under UAPA pertaining to threatening witnesses. As of June 2023, Shahina is out on bail pending trial. If convicted, she faces a maximum of three years in prison and a fine.
A Muslim by birth, Shahina has also been subjected to extensive harassment by Indian right-wing groups seeking to silence her reporting on religious minorities and vulnerable caste groups. She has faced persistent online harassment and lewd threats, and in 2020, several right-wing publications falsely implicated her in that Bengaluru bombing.
Based in Kochi, in the southern state of Kerala, Shahina has worked as a reporter, production associate, and news anchor with well-known news outlets including Asianet News, Janayugom, Open, and The Federal. She also has contributed to The Washington Post.
By honoring Shahina with this year’s IPFA, CPJ shines a spotlight on India’s increasingly repressive environment for press freedom, with the targeting of journalists under draconian security laws, and toxic online campaigns particularly aimed at vilifying women journalists and ethnic or religious minorities.
Shahina stands out as one of the first journalists in India to face charges under a draconian anti-terror law. Despite the ongoing trial since 2010, she has continued reporting on exposing injustices and holding authorities accountable. nThe case against Shahina stems from her reporting on a questionable police investigation, where local government officials sought to criminalize her work. As of June 2023, Shahina is out on bail, awaiting trial. If convicted, she could face up to three years in prison with an additional fine.
Besides being held in court, Shahina has been subjected to harassment by political groups in India. These groups have reportedly tried to suppress her reporting on religious minorities and vulnerable caste groups. The International Press Freedom Award acknowledged Shahina’s resilience in the face of adversity, honoring her dedication to the principles of free and unbiased journalism.
Shahina is the fourth Indian to achieve this recognition, with notable contributions to OPEN magazine, Tehelka, and Asianet News. She was awarded the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Women Mediapersons in 2011. Moreover, she was an activist in the 2014 fight against moral policing, the ‘Kiss of Love’ movement.
In her acceptance speech, Shahina said, “As time went on I made a conscious effort to derive more from my courtroom experiences. I met many people who had unusual encounters with the legal system, with a significant number of them being victims of fabricated cases. This resulted in a series of articles that illuminated the challenges endured by the marginalized population in the state of Karnataka in India. As I sought to understand legal abuse, I pursued a law degree ultimately I earned.”