Monday May 16, 2022

Outcry as India shuts IIOJ&K Press Club

January 19, 2022

SRINAGAR: The Indian government has shut down the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K) Press Club, prompting an outcry from journalists, politicians and others who called the move further evidence of efforts to silence critical reporting in the disputed territory.

The KPC was the only elected journalists' body in Kashmir liaising with the government on difficulties faced by reporters, and had issued statements critical of police actions hindering the media.

Authorities on Monday said that the association, created in 2019 after a lengthy struggle by local journalists, had “ceased to exist” as a registered body, accusing members of “illegalities on several counts”.

They said that the club had failed to re-register under new laws introduced after the region came under direct Indian rule in 2019, and that its management committee had failed to hold elections.

Last month authorities granted a fresh registration after a rigorous six-month process — following which new elections were announced — but two days later held it in “abeyance”. On Saturday, a group of pro-government journalists, accompanied by armed police and paramilitary troops, deployed outside the premises and declared themselves in charge. The Editor's Guild of India called the action an “armed takeover”.

Ishfaq Tantray, club secretary, said that the government “wanted to stifle the voice of journalists that resonated through the forum called Kashmir Press Club, the only democratic and independent journalist body (in Kashmir)”.

“It seems that the coup & its aftermath was entirely orchestrated to shut down another outlet that served as a medium for journalists to debate & discuss their opinions freely,” former Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said on Twitter. “With every passing day, all the safety valves to express dissent are being muzzled.” The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the aim of the shutdown was “to prevent journalists from doing their jobs”, calling on authorities to stop the “repeated harassment of journalists” in Kashmir.

In its Monday statement, the government said it was committed to a free and fair press and “journalists are entitled to all facilities, including a place for professional, educational, social, cultural, recreational and welfare activities”. The statement added that the government expects a new “bona fide society of all journalists” to approach it for “reallocation” of the KPC premises.