Global Media Watchdog RSF Blasts J&K Authorities for Closure of Kashmir Press Club
photo by Kamran Yousuf
Srinagar: Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a media watchdog based in Paris, said on Wednesday that the government of India should immediately reopen the Kashmir Press Club (KPC), which the J&K government has locked for the last four days.
In a scathing statement, the RSF held authorities in the region responsible for helping a group of journalists lead what many have termed a "state-backed coup" that ultimately led to the closure of the press club.
"We call on Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to immediately restore the KPC's licence and order its reopening," the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific Desk Daniel Bastard said in the statement.
"This society's closure is clearly the outcome of a coup hatched at great length by the local government, which follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi's orders. This undeclared coup is an Indian government insult to all the journalists trying to do their job in the Kashmir Valley, which is steadily being transformed into a black hole for news and information," he added.
RSF called for the immediate reopening of the Club, where Kashmiri journalists used to discuss their problems and defend press freedom, adding that it is officially "closed for good after being invaded".
"The elected body respected and honoured the mandate journalists gave to it. We have worked professionally and with integrity. The best and the positive course ahead is to restore the Club and its premises to the journalists and allow the elected body to organise elections as soon as possible. Anyone who wants welfare and good for journalists should vouch for this outcome. Let better sense prevail on all sides," the statement quoted KPC's general secretary Ishfaq Tantray as saying.
The reasons for closing the KPC were clear, freelance journalist Aakash Hassan told RSF.
"The Club was a distinct institution protecting journalist rights in the region, where attacks on the media and intimidation of journalists by the authorities are reaching unprecedented levels. Stopping people from having a space like the KPC was simply to bring an end to any solidarity that emerges in difficult times for journalists in Kashmir," he said.
The media watchdog also pointed out that press freedom violations have surged in Jammu and Kashmir ever since the Indian authorities rescinded the region's autonomy in August 2019, to the point of turning it into a "new information black hole."
RSF's condemnation of the closure of KPC comes days after a group of journalists claimed a "takeover" of the press club in Srinagar and subsequently announced themselves as the new management body amidst a presence of over a dozen security personnel, something that the local journalist bodies and many national press club bodies widely condemned.
Regional political parties also widely censured the incident at the Kashmir Press Club. Former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah claimed that the "coup" is part of a larger crackdown to stifle media in the region.
Hakeem Yaseen, a former lawmaker of the erstwhile state, criticised the government arbitrarily closing down the Club. He said that the decision amounted to an "onslaught" on the working of the press.
"Closing KPC aimed to impede facilities provided to media persons to work in a free atmosphere. Press was the fourth pillar of democracy," Yaseen said, adding that by closing KPC, JK Union Territory has given a bad name to India -- "the largest democratic country, in the free world order."
In a new statement, separatist group All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) on Wednesday condemned the "forcible" takeover and closure of the KPC by the state authorities.
"The policy of repression and demolition of institutions in J&K being pursued by the authorities is extremely unfortunate and sad," the APHC said.
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