Srinagar: After authorities withdrew registration of the Kashmir Press Club (KPC), a group of journalists on Saturday unilaterally formed an interim body in what several journalist bodies in the region said was “arbitrary” and “illegal” while many termed it a “state-backed coup”.
The group of journalists entered the Kashmir Press Club premises earlier on Saturday amidst the presence of security personnel of J&K police and announced themselves as a new interim body, which they later in a statement termed as a “takeover” of the press club.
The self-appointed interim body nominated M Saleem Pandit of the Times of India (ToI) as the president and Deccan Herald journalist Zulfikar Majid as general secretary and Arshad Rasool, who is the editor of Daily Gadyal as treasurer of the club till elections are held.
“The elected body served its tenure for a period of two years, which ended on July 14, 2021. As the previous committee delayed the elections for unknown reasons the Club was headless, thereafter for around six months, putting media fraternity to unwanted trouble,” the group’s statement read.
As many as nine journalist bodies, however, have termed the incident as highly “unfortunate” and “undemocratic”. The bodies, which includes the previous Press Club body, issued a joint statement later in the day accused the group of “forcing” their way into the press club premises for the takeover amid a large number of police and paramilitary personnel deployed beforehand for “highly condemnable and completely illegal move.”
“The administration, by allowing few disgruntled elements to hoodwink the Club constitution and flout all norms of law, has set a wrong and dangerous precedent,” the journalist bodies said.
The joint statement added that the journalist bodies are “unanimous in view that this unfortunate move by a disgruntled lot has set a dangerous precedent by forcing their way into the club office in violation of the KPC constitution and bylaws.”
In the joint statement, the local press bodies have urged 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, what they called, the lawlessness and throttling a democratic media body.
“If such incidents are allowed to happen with a Press Club in Kashmir this can be precedence for future,” the statement cautioned.
The statement was given by Journalist Federation of Kashmir (JFK), Kashmir Working Journalists Association (KWJA), Kashmir Press Photographer Association (KPPA), Kashmir Press Club(KPC), Jammu and Kashmir Journalist Association (JAKJA), Kashmir Video Journalist Association (KVJA), Kashmir Working Journalists Association, Kashmir National Television Journalist Association (KNTJA) and Kashmir Journalist Association (KJA).
Earlier the Press Club management body of the club informed its members on Friday that they received an order by the Registrar of Firms and Societies, Kashmir. The communication said that the re-registration certificate issued to the club on December 29 under Society Registration Act, 1860 has been kept in “abeyance.”
“The order by the government authorities has been issued after the Club Management had set in motion the process of electing the new management body as well as the executive Committee members,” the KPC said.
The management had earlier written official letters to the concerned authorities to expedite the re-registration process so that elections to the society could be held at the earliest. “The Registration Certificate was issued to the Club following a due process and clearance mechanism, including the Non-Involvement/ Verification of Character and Antecedents Certificate which was issued by the Office of District Commissioner/District Magistrate Srinagar vide No: Dms/Jud/Soc/21/742 dated December 24 last month,” the KPC added.
Journalists in Kashmir have said that they are working under tremendous pressure from the authorities, something that the KPC has been vocal about, especially since the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A on August 5, 2019. Many journalists have said they have been harassed and intimidated by the authorities for their work in the tumultuous region.
Following the arrest of a budding journalist, Sajad Gul earlier last week, the KPC had expressed serious concern over the state of journalism and urged the authorities to drop charges against Gul. The journalist has been granted a bail by court on Saturday after remaining in jail for 10 days while another journalist Asif Sultan continues to remain incarcerated since 2018 on charges of ‘aiding’ militants.
The fresh incident at KPC is also seen by many as part of larger crackdown on freedom of speech and expression in Jammu and Kashmir.
“KPC is one of the last institutions that was working independently. Today’s move is to further stifle free speech and independent journalism and appears to be backed by the government,” senior journalist Gowhar Geelani told NewsClick.
The "takeover” of the Press Club was also condemned by former chief minister Omar Abdullah who seemingly accused the ToI journalist of being backed the state.
“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,” Omar tweeted.
On putting KPC’s registration in “abeyance,” People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti slammed Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) of deliberately delaying KPC’s registration in what she said was an attempt to throttle real issues flagged by journalists.
“GOI doesn’t want a debate on the oppression unleashed in J&K. Deliberately delaying KPCs registration is an attempt to throttle real issues flagged by local journalists here. Free press is the fourth pillar of democracy but BJPs policies seek to undermine & demolish it completely,” she tweeted.