New Delhi, January 17 (CPJ/OurVoice) – The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on authorities in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir to reverse moves in recent days to shut down the Kashmir Press Club, the largest elected trade body representing journalists in the territory.
The authorities suspended the club’s registration and canceled the allotment for its government-owned premises in Srinagar, Kashmir’s largest city, from where it was operating, according to various news reports, effectively closing down the journalists’ group. The Kashmir Press Club, which has been in operation since 2019, provides space for journalists to work and for press conferences, and also issues statements when journalists are attacked and lobbies the government on issues of journalist safety, according to a journalist who had been a member since the club’s inception and asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons.
“Suspending Kashmir Press Club’s registration and taking over its premises is the latest move by the Jammu and Kashmir administration to prevent journalists from doing their jobs,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Jammu and Kashmir authorities should immediately allow the Kashmir Press Club to resume operations and stop its repeated harassment of journalists in the territory.”
According to Shuja-ul-Haq, the outgoing president of Kashmir Press Club, who issued a statement on Twitter yesterday, the government had asked the journalists’ body to re-register last year. After following required legal procedures, a fresh registration was issued to the club on December 29, 2021, according Haq’s statement. However, on January 14, a day after it announced elections for a new managing body, the authorities announced that they had put the club’s registration under “abeyance,” citing a “report received from CID,” the criminal investigation department, according to The Hindu and NDTV.
On January 15, an unelected group of journalists and police allegedly forced themselves into the club premises and appointed themselves as the managing body before announcing that they were locking the premises for a week, according to various news reports. In a statement, the group denied that they took help from the police and claimed that the armed men were personal security officers of one of the journalists and police officers from the local police station who were enforcing COVID-19 protocol, according to The Hindu.
Today, the government canceled the allotment of the club’s premises–citing the “unpleasant developments and dissensions between various groups of journalists,” the suspended registration of the club, and its failure to get a new elected managing body–and declared that Kashmir Press Club has ceased to exist, according to The Hindu.
A text message sent to Rohit Kansal, spokesperson for the Jammu and Kashmir administration, seeking comment was not immediately answered.
Since August 2019, when Jammu and Kashmir’s political autonomy was abrogated, CPJ has documented numerous incidents of arrests and threats to journalists in the Kashmir region. The latest was on January 16, when Jammu and Kashmir police opened a fresh investigation into imprisoned journalist Sajad Gul on allegations of “attempt to murder” after he was granted bail on previous charges, according to news reports.