The Kashmir Press Club has been in news over the last few days after a group of journalists and newspaper owners took over the largest journalists’ body on 15 January in an apparent coup in the organisation.
The Kashmir Press Club hit the headlines after a group of journalists and newspaper owners on Saturday, allegedly with help from the police, staged a “coup” in the largest journalists’ body in the Valley.
Let’s take a look at what happened, why journalists are up in arms, what press bodies have said and the stance of the Jammu and Kashmir administration:
What happened at the Kashmir Press Club
According to The Wire, dozens of policemen and paramilitary personnel arrived at the KPC office along with a group of journalists and newspaper owners who are widely perceived as “government-friendly”.
The group of journalists, headed by Salim Pandit and Zulfikar Majid, appointed themselves as the new body, even as the club was preparing for its annual elections. Pandit appointed himself as the KPC president.
As per a report by the Indian Express, Pandit alleged that the current panel’s term ended last year and they were illegally occupying office.
He said that the elections will be conducted when the situation allows.
According to a statement issued by the KPC, Pandit’s press club membership was cancelled in November 2019 after he reported for his paper on 19 July 2019, that the editor of a prominent English daily had “close connections to terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba and has hired known ‘jihadi journalists’ to write for his newspaper.”
Pandit told the journalists outside the KPC that various Kashmiri media organisations have unanimously elected the body with himself as the president, Majid as the general secretary, and Arshid Rasool as the treasurer.
It should be noted that on 14 January, the approval for re-registration of the KPC was withdrawn by the Registrar of Societies of Kashmir citing a report from J&K Police’s CID wing.
“I received communication from the (office of the) deputy commissioner in Srinagar to put the re-registration of Kashmir Press Club in abeyance and accordingly I issued the order,” Mehmood Ahmad Shah, registrar of societies, told Outlook.
‘Illegal and unconstitutional’
At least nine journalist bodies termed the takeover as “illegal and unconstitutional” and demanded restoration of the Club’s registration as a society and early elections.
The Editors Guild of India condemned the incident and released a statement demanding immediate restoration of status quo.
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
“The Guild demands immediate restoration of status quo before this hostile takeover, announcement of elections to appoint a new management body and strict prohibitions on any armed forces from interfering with the functioning of the Club, without due legal sanction,” it said.
It also demanded independent inquiry as to how state police entered the premises without due warrant or paperwork.
“Even more disturbingly, the state police entered the premises without any due warrant or paperwork, and have, therefore, been brazenly complicit in this coup, in which a group of people have become self-declared management of the Club. This violation of the sanctity of the Club by the police and the local administration is a manifestation of the continuing trend to smother press freedom in the State,” it added
The Press Club of India demanded to allow the “democratic process of holding election in a peaceful manner”.
Press Club of India is deeply concerned with the developments with Kashmir Press Club.
We demand that the democratic process of holding elections be allowed in a peaceful manner. We appeal to Hon Jammu and Kashmir LG @manojsinha_ to look into the matter and facilitate elections. pic.twitter.com/JFmm6CtZNE
— Press Club of India (@PCITweets) January 16, 2022
Press Council of India, Federation of Press Clubs, Delhi Union of Journalists and Mumbai Press Club among others too condemned the hostile takeover and demanded restoration of the club as a society.
The dramatic event at the KPC also triggered a political row in Kashmir as former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti slammed the administration for taking over a democratically elected body.
There is no government this “journalist” hasn’t sucked up to & 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. https://t.co/POIgQV2Ea7
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) January 15, 2022
Todays state sponsored coup at KPC would put the worst dictators to shame.State agencies here are too busy overthrowing elected bodies & firing govt employees instead of discharging their actual duties. Shame on those who aided & facilitated this coup against their own fraternity https://t.co/SnyZYSt0mN
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) January 15, 2022
On Monday, the J&K administration took back the premises allotted to the club and said it has “ceased to exist”.
“In view of the unpleasant developments and dissensions between various groups of journalists, it has been decided that the allotment of the premises at Polo View to the now-deregistered Kashmir Press Club be cancelled and the control of land and buildings situated at Polo View, Srinagar which belong to the Estates Department be reverted to the said department,” the government said in a press release.
The government said it was concerned over the emergent situation which has arisen due to the “unpleasant turn” of events involving two warring groups using the banner of the Kashmir Press Club.
The government said that the KPC’s managing body came to a legal closure on 14 July, 2021, when its tenure came to an end.
It added that since the original KPC has ceased to exist as a registered body, the question of any interim body is rendered infructuous, dealing a blow to both the sparring factions.
Following the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s statement, political parties on Tuesday too jumped in the fray asking for it to immediately restore the press club.
While the National Conference spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar asked the government to work for creating an “enabling environment” for the KPC to hold its elections in a free and fair manner.
The Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) said the closure of the Press Club was unacceptable and unfair.
“JKPCC unequivocally condemns the closure of Kashmir Press Club by the administration and sought revocation of the closure order in the larger interest of the press freedom,” a party spokesperson said.
While expressing resentment over the closure of Kashmir Press Club by the administration, CPI(M) secretary Ghulam Nabi Malik said that the closing of the club is an assault on the rights of the people.
“This act is just a part of a policy which started with putting the registration of the club in abeyance. The administration has finally closed the club,” Malik said.
“The closure of the Kashmir Press Club is part of the continuous process to throttle the press freedom and democracy in Kashmir. The press/media in Jammu and Kashmir is already working under immense stress and strain,” he added.
Malik demanded immediate restoration of the status quo and providing an atmosphere, where the KPC can conduct free and fair elections.
With inputs from agencies
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