The Editors Guild of India on Tuesday said it was deeply anguished with the shutting down of the Kashmir Press Club (KPC) in Jammu and Kashmir, a region that has seen the “worst kind of state heavy-handedness against any independent media”.
Issuing a second statement in three days — a day after the Jammu and Kashmir administration said the KPC had “ceased to exist” and took back the premises allotted to the largest journalists’ body in the Valley — the Guild described the move as the ”latest act in a sequence of disturbing events”.
The administration’s move was preceded by a ”shocking breach of institutional norms when a group of people, with the active support of state police and CRPF, took over the office and management of the Club” last Saturday, the Guild said.
“The Editors Guild of India is deeply anguished by the shutting down of the Kashmir Press Club by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, on January 17, 2022. “The shutting down of the club is the latest act in a sequence of disturbing events, wherein the ‘re-registration’ of the Club was first arbitrarily put ‘in abeyance’ by the Registrar of Societies on January 14th, followed by the shocking breach of institutional norms when a group of people, with the active support of state police and CRPF, took over the office and management of the Club on January 15th,” it said.
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The Guild added that with the closure of the KPC, an important journalistic institution in a region that has seen the worst kind ”state heavy-handedness against any independent media has been effectively dismantled”.
The Kashmir Press Club was established in 2018 and already had more than 300 members, making it the largest journalists’ association in the region.
”Space for media freedom and active civil society has been steadily eroding in the region. Journalists frequently face intimidation from terror groups as well as the state.
”They are also charged under heavy penal laws, and are routinely detained by security forces for reporting or for their editorials,” the statement by the Guild said.
It also highlighted the brutal killing of Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of Rising Kashmir, by ”unknown people” besides the spate of cases filed by the police against journalists and photographers who were even charged with the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
The Guild also referred to the sealing of the office of the Kashmir Times and the advisory in April last year forbidding journalists from reporting live encounters with militants on the specious plea that it is ”likely to incite violence” or that it can promote ”anti-national sentiment”.
The statement discussed the case of journalist Sajad Gul, who was earlier arrested by police for posting a video of a protesting family on social media and later booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) after a local court had granted him bail.
”In a state ridden with such excesses against the media, Kashmir Press Club was an important institution for fighting for protection and rights of journalists. It also remained open through the lockdown, giving journalists access to important facilities like the internet for filing their work, as well as workshops for training young journalists.
”The shutting down of the Club, therefore, sets a dangerous precedent for media freedom,” it said and reiterated its earlier demand that status quo before the January 14 order of Registrar of Societies be restored with respect to the functioning of the Club, and that the state works towards building and protecting the space for a free press.
In its statement on the matter on January 16, the Guild termed the events a ”coup” and a continuing trend to smother press freedom in the union territory with the help of police who have been ”brazenly complicit” in it.
The re-registration certificate of the KPC had been issued on December 29, 2021, after remaining pending with the authorities since July 2021. This was also communicated to earlier KPC members on January 13 and they immediately announced the holding of elections.
Much to the surprise of everyone, the re-registration process was placed under abeyance by the Registrar of Societies, Jammu and Kashmir, citing police verification on January 14.
On January 15, some people claiming to be the new interim management of the KPC took over the building. Pictures of policemen armed with assault rifles inside the building went viral on social media.