Indian media bodies have deplored the forcible takeover of the Kashmir Press Club in Srinagar by a group of journalists who raided the precincts on Saturday under the watch of armed police, a month before fresh elections are due to be held there on Feb 15.
The takeover, described by media spokespersons as a coup, took place under the cover of a Covid lockdown ordered by the government at the weekend.
The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) said on Sunday it was “dismayed at the government move to close the Press Club of Kashmir”.
The DUJ statement said the authorities had renewed the licence of the Kashmir Press Club on Dec 29 after the issue had hung fire for months. Once the renewal notice was received, the Press Club belatedly announced elections.
Now the licence renewal has been suddenly cancelled, ostensibly because of an adverse intelligence report. “This volte face is inexplicable.”
The DUJ slammed what it said were arbitrary and unabated arrests, detentions and questioning of journalists in Kashmir. “On Jan 5, Sajad Gul, a trainee journalist with Kashmir Walla, was arrested for (allegedly) fomenting anti-government feelings. Last year Salman Shah and Suhail Dar were arrested for ‘breach of peace’. Journalist Aasif Sultan has been in jail since Aug 27, 2018, and awaits trial.”
Former Kashmir chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti expressed their shock over the ‘coup’ by some journalists supported by the official machinery.
Taking to Twitter, National Conference Vice President Omar wrote: “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.”
According to newslaundury.com, a fact-checking portal, the leader of the takeover — Saleem Pandit — was among the journalists invited to meet foreign diplomats brought to the Valley on a tour conducted by the Indian government in Jan 2020.
“At 1.45 pm, the group’s head, journalist Saleem Pandit, arrived in an armoured cavalcade comprising a bulletproof Ambassador and a Scorpio along with his security detail.”
Within an hour an announcement was made through the Press Club’s official WhatsApp group and email address, that “various journalist organisations across Kashmir valley unanimously decided to form an interim body of three members with M. Saleem Pandit as president, Zulfikar Majid, bureau chief of Deccan Herald as General Secretary and Arshid Rasool, Editor of Daily Gadyal as treasurer of the Club till elections are held in free and fair manner”. The statement released did not specify the name of journalist organisations supporting the move.
News laundury quoted a member of the last elected body as likening the takeover of the press club to the stalling of elections of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association (JKHCBA).