Space of Media Freedom Eroded, Editors Guild Of India On Press Club Undoing

SRINAGAR: The Editors Guild of India in a statement on Tuesday said that it is “deeply anguished” by the shutting down of the Kashmir Press Club, the biggest journalist body in the Kashmir valley, adding that it sets “a dangerous precedent” for media freedom.

The administration of the Jammu and Kashmir has announced that the Kashmir Press Club has ceased to exist – it has lost its registration as a society, and its land has been reclaimed by the government.

“The shutting down of the club is the latest act in a sequence of disturbing events, wherein the ‘re-registration’ of the Club was first arbitrarily put ‘in abeyance’ by the Registrar of Societies on January 14th, followed by the shocking breach of institutional norms when a group of people, with the active support of state police and CRPF, took over the office and management of the Club on January 15th,” the Editors Guild of India said.

“With the shutting down of the Club and government reverting the land back to the Estates Department, an important journalistic institution in a region that has seen the worst kind state heavy-handedness against any independent media has been effectively dismantled. Kashmir Press Club was established in 2018, and already had more than 300 members, making it the largest journalists’ association in the region,” said the Editors Guild of India.

“Space for media freedom and active civil society has been steadily eroding in the region. Journalists frequently face intimidation from terror groups as well as the state. They are also charged under heavy penal laws and are routinely detained by security forces for reporting or for their editorials. In June 2018, Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of Rising Kashmir, was killed by unknown people. In April 2020 an FIR was filed against the journalist Peerzada Ashiq, in connection with a report he had filed for The Hindu newspaper, while freelance photographer Masrat Zahra was charged with Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA),” they said, adding that in October 2020, the Srinagar office of Kashmir Times was suddenly sealed.

“In March 2021, Fahad Shah, editor-in-chief of The Kashmir Walla, a Srinagar based publication, was detained for the third time for his writings. In April 2021, Kashmir Police had issued an advisory forbidding journalists from reporting live encounters with militants on the specious plea that it is “likely to incite violence” or that it can promote “anti-national sentiment”. Most recently, journalist Sajad Gul was arrested for posting a video of a protesting family on social media,” said Editors Guild of India.

In a state ridden with such excesses against media, Kashmir Press Club was an important institution for fighting for the protection and rights of journalists. It also remained open through the lockdown, giving journalists access to important facilities like the internet for filing their work, as well as workshops for training of young journalists. The shutting down of the Club, therefore, sets a dangerous precedent for media freedom, they said.

The Guild reiterates its earlier demand that the status quo before the January 14th order of Registrar of Societies be restored with respect to the functioning of the Club, and that the state works towards building and protecting the space for a free press.

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