Srinagar: The Kashmir Press Club (KPC) was witness to unfamiliar activities on Saturday when a few journalists accompanied by policemen reached there and claimed to be its ”new management”, a move that came hours after the Jammu and Kashmir administration had put on hold its registration.
The policemen claimed to be Personal Security Officers of one of the journalists who released a statement to the media stating that ”some journalist forums” had chosen them to be new office-bearers.
The journalists — M Saleem Pandit as president, Zufliqar Majid as general secretary, and Arshad Rasool as treasurer — said in the statement that the previous elected body had served its tenure for a period of two years, which ended on July 14, 2021, and the elections were delayed for unknown reasons.
”Now, therefore, on January 15, 2022, various journalist organizations across Kashmir Valley unanimously decided to form an interim body of three members with Pandit as president,” it said.
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The claims of the interim body were countered soon by a statement issued by around nine journalist bodies in Kashmir who denounced this forcible takeover of the KPC office with ”open support from administration” and termed it ”a wrong and dangerous precedent”.
The statement said all Kashmir-based journalists have expressed anguish over the illegal and arbitrary takeover of the KPC by some journalists with open support from the local administration.
”On January 15, the day when the administration had declared weekend lockdown in view of Covid surge, a group of journalists barged into the club office and forcibly took control of the club by keeping the office members hostage. A large number of police and paramilitary personnel were deployed beforehand for this highly condemnable and completely illegal move,” the joint statement said.
They said the administration, by allowing a few disgruntled elements to hoodwink the club constitution, bylaws, and flout all norms of law, has set a wrong and dangerous precedent.
On December 29, the club’s registration was issued following which it was decided to initiate the process of fresh elections, but all of a sudden, a group of journalists, including some non-members, approached the administration with a proposal for an ”interim body” and subsequently, the re-registration was kept in abeyance.
”This move, in which a group of journalists self-appointed itself as an ‘interim body,’ is uncivil, illegal, unconstitutional, and without any precedence. It has been taken at a time when the process of registration is still pending before the authorities,” it said.
They also appealed to the Press Council of India, Press Club of India, Federation of Press Clubs and Editors Guild of India to take a strong note of how the local administration is supporting lawlessness and throttling a democratic media body.
The move also drew reactions from politicians with the former chief minister and vice president of National Conference Omar Abdullah terming it a ”state-sponsored coup” and hit out at one of the journalists of the interim body, saying ”there is no government this ‘journalist’ hasn’t sucked up to and no government he hasn’t lied on behalf of. I should know, I’ve seen both sides very closely. Now he’s benefited from a state-sponsored coup.” The former chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted that the government does not want a ”debate on the oppression unleashed in JK.
She said today’s incident was a ”state-sponsored coup at KPC” which would put the ”worst dictators to shame”.
Both the chief ministers shared a purported picture from inside the KPC office showing two policemen holding their assault rifles, with Mehbooba saying it conveyed the most obvious yet disturbing reality gripping Kashmir.
”Every illegal and undemocratic action undertaken by GOI is carried out at the barrel of a gun. The aim is to hide the growing number of skeletons tumbling out of the closet and scuttle honest reportage,” she added.
The existing KPC body denounced the ”forcible” takeover, saying it has set a ”bad precedent”.
It said, ”There were no consultations with the existing body. We have been informed by the manager that they forced their entry into the press club, they have forced him to open the seals of the club. They did not show any government order and just declared that they are an interim body,” KPC general secretary Ishfaq Tantray told PTI.
Tantray said the members of the interim body ”threatened” the staff at the club and took over seals and writing pads.
”This is all illegal, they have no legality. They have set a bad precedent. Some non-members (of the club) were also part of this so-called meeting of the interim body. It is a theft of the trust of journalists,” Tantray said.
In an order, the Registrar of Society, Jammu and Kashmir, said the office of the senior superintendent of police, CID, has put on hold the non-involvement and verification of character and antecedent certificate of the members of the managing body of the KPC.
”The re-registration granted (to the KPC) on December 29, 2021 is hereby kept in abeyance till the receipt of final report from additional district magistrate, Srinagar,” the order read.
The KPC had on Thursday announced it will hold elections to form a new body on February 15. However, after its registration was put in abeyance, the elections were deferred.