SRINAGAR: Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris based media watchdog, said on Wednesday that the government should immediately reopen the Kashmir Press Club (KPC), which the J&K government has locked for the last four days.
In a 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 grounds given by those who took possession of the club’s premises was its failure to hold the internal elections that were originally supposed to have taken place on 19 July 2021. But, in reality, it was the Jammu and Kashmir administration that blocked the process by delaying the club’s re-registration as a society, a formal pre-requisite. As the KPC’s outgoing president, Shuja ul-Haq, pointed out in a statement, the club submitted its request in May 2021 but did not receive a reply until 29 December, reads the statement issued by RSF.
On 13 January, the KPC bureau finally welcomed the “smooth running of the club re-registration process under the Societies Act 1860” and said it would therefore be possible to hold the internal elections in February. It was the next day that the authorities announced the suspension of its registration and two days later that the paramilitaries forced their way into the club in order to take possession, it reads.
“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 latest example was reporter Sajad Gul’s arrest by Indian paramilitaries on the evening of 5 January for nothing more than posting a video on Twitter. He is still being held although a court ordered his release on bail on January 16. The press club publicly called for his release on January 11,” RSF said.