Image: Mumin Gul / mountain-ink.com
Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) has demanded the immediate cancellation of the government decision to close Press Club of Kashmir, reminding what “a vital role” it has played for journalists in the area.
“We call for greater democracy and freedom of the press in Kashmir. We view the developments in the Kashmir Press Club as one more reprehensible attempt to intimidate journalists,” said the DUJ in a press release.
General Secretary Sujata Modhak asked for the restoration of the Kashmir Press Club to the duly elected office bearers and a renewal of the license that was “kept in abeyance” since January 14. On December 29, 2021, authorities finally renewed the Club’s months-pending license. Upon the renewal, the Press Club belatedly announced elections but then the document was revoked reportedly due to an adverse CID report. The government claimed to be waiting for the final report from Srinagar’s Additional District Magistrate.
Then on January 15, the Club was “taken over” from the legally elected management body in conjunction with security forces. The DUJ acknowledged the joint statement by several state journalists objecting to this move by “a small faction” when Srinagar was under lockdown.
Regarding the take over and the government’s decision to hinder the license renewal, the DUJ said, “Press Clubs everywhere are information hubs where journalists exchange information and views, enabling them to perform their jobs better. They are also places where journalists stop and rest between hectic deadlines, while they wait for the next interview, the next press briefing…They are places to get an affordable meal and a drink and socialize with colleagues.”
It argued that Press Clubs are invaluable for the profession, especially in Kashmir, where journalism is a risky, dangerous profession. Further, the DUJ voiced concern about the continued arbitrary arrests, detentions and questioning of Kashmiri journalists. For example, Kashmir Walla’s trainee journalist Sajad Gul was arrested on January 5 for fomenting anti-government feelings. Similarly, Salman Shah and Suhail Dar were arrested for ‘breach of peace’ in 2021. Still earlier, journalist Aasif Sultan was jailed in August 27, 2018 and still awaits a trial.
Press Club across India express solidarity
Along with the DUJ, the Mumbai Press Club (MPC) and the Editors Guild of India (EGI) also condemned the forcible takeover. According to the MPC, the government order has put the entire 300-member journalist body in cold storage and negated the election process. It condemned the group of journalists that barged into the Kashmir Press Club and declared themselves an ‘interim’ body.
“The group who trespassed into the club premises were protected by the J&K Police. The Press CLub does not allow gun-bearing persons in the club premises. However, the J&K police installed themselves at the club’s gate and inside the club building,” said the MPC in a press statement.
Similarly, members of the EGI said they were aghast at the manner in which the largest journalists’ association in the Valley was forcibly taken over with the help of armed policemen.
“The Guild is equally alarmed by an arbitrary order of putting the registration of the Kashmir Press Club “in abeyance”, a day before this armed take-over of the Club on January 14 by the Registrar of Societies,” said the EGI.
The Editors Guild of India is aghast at the manner in which the office and the management of Kashmir Press Club, the largest journalists’ association in the Valley, was forcibly taken over by a group of journalists with the help of armed policemen on January 15, 2022. pic.twitter.com/D6zVW7iW1P
— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) January 16, 2022
Stating that the Kashmir Press Club has been representing the voice of independent journalism in the Kashmir Valley for some time, the Press Clubs condemned the attempt to close down the legally registered body from holding its own election.
“To dub those who are writing and reporting in a balanced manner as ‘anti-national’ is a cause of concern… [it] smacks of autocracy and is a violation of the freedom of the press guaranteed under the Constitution,” said the MPC.