Kashmiri journalists ‘deprived’ of interactive space, protection as authorities shut valley’s only Press Club

Kashmir Press Club located at Lal Chowk Srinagar was shut by authorities. | Photo by Kamran Yousuf

The journalists from Kashmir valley lamented that they have lost a rare institution that stood by them, talked about journalistic rights, and called out the threats media in Kashmir, especially the freelancers, face.

Muhammad Raafi | TwoCircles.net 

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SRINAGAR — Days after the “military-style coup” at the Kashmir Press Club and the subsequent shutdown of the premises by the New Delhi appointed Lieutenant Governor administration, several journalists from Kashmir expressed resentment with the administration’s decision claiming that they feel like they have been “evicted from their home”.

Unprecedented scenes were witnessed at the KPC on Saturday (January 15) after a group of “disgruntled journalists” emerged at the premises and announced the “take over” of the Club. Prior to their “takeover”, a posse of paramilitary forces was deployed outside while personnel of the Jammu and Kashmir Police led by the Station House Officer (SHO) of Kothi Bagh Police Station was deployed inside the premises.

The next day, the club was locked and the administration announced that they have revoked the allotment of the Club.

“It looks like we have been evicted from our home. Press Club provided us shelter where we could sit and work even in the most difficult situations. It was also a place where we would interact with colleagues, discuss work and our personal matters,” Aakash Hassan, an independent journalist based in Kashmir said.

He said it felt like a unique safe space in the “increasingly threatening atmosphere we are working in”.

The journalists lament that they have lost a rare institution that stood by them, talked about journalistic rights, and called out the threats the media in Kashmir, especially the freelancers, face.

Quratulain Rehbar, a freelance journalist told TwoCircles.net, “I don’t have a place to work. I sit in my rented accommodation and work here but in the Press Club, I would sit with my seniors and ask them suggestions about my work and share ideas.”

The administration, in a statement, said, “The factual position is that KPC as a registered body has ceased to exist and its managing body has come to a legal closure on 14 July 2021, the date on which its tenure came to an end.”

“In its failure to register itself under the central Societies of Registration Act, further compounded by its failure to hold elections to constitute a new managing body, some individuals of the erstwhile club have been committing illegalities on several counts, least of which are a false portrayal of being owner-managers of an entity which is no longer in legal vogue,” the statement read.

However, on January 13, the management of the press club had announced that the re-registration process of the club was completed. “The Government has communicated the same to the management last week. The club management had been waiting for this process to be complete for the last about six months. Since the process is complete now the existing management has decided to hold the elections for the new management body as mandated by the club’s registered constitution.”

Soon after the announcement of elections, three journalists from the ‘coup group’ proposed to the District Magistrate of Srinagar, Aijaz Asad, the nomination of the interim committee for the Kashmir Press Club.

Interestingly, the letter contended that the previous executive body “attempted” to seek the renewal of the registration of the said club under the new Societies Act but were refused by the Registrar of Societies as the constitution or Memorandum of Association of the club barred them from making any presentation before any authority or to apply for the renewal of the registration as they cease to continue as the executive members of the KPC.

But the club was issued a re-registration certificate by the Registrar of Societies before the circulated letter and the re-registration was canceled after the circulation of the letter on the social media platforms, on January 14.

Additionally, one of the members mentioned in the letter, Mehraj-ud-din of the Associated Press (AP) expressed surprise at his inclusion in the letter without his knowledge. The letter said that Mehraj would be treasurer of the interim body.

The statement from the administration further said that ‘takeover’ by an interim body is rendered infructuous since the original KPC itself has ceased to exist as a registered body. “In these circumstances, issuing of notices and communication by any group using the rubric of erstwhile Kashmir Press Club is illegal.”

Justifying its action, the administration said, “In view of this aspect of the dispute and in view of the reports on social media and other sources indicating a potential law and order situation, including a threat of breach of peace and the safety of bonafide journalists, an intervention has become necessary.”

The series of events including cancellation of the allotment has riled up the journalist community in the volatile region which has condemned the move with some calling it “abrogation of Kashmir Press Club”, a euphemistic reference to the abrogation of Article 370 vis a vis J&K.

Majid Maqbool, another independent journalist based in Kashmir, who is also a member of the Kashmir Press Club, said the closure of the club, which appeared to have been done in a planned manner following an armed coup by a few state-backed journalists, is a big loss for the journalistic fraternity in Kashmir, especially for independent journalists.

“We could often meet and chat there (at KPC), and exchange ideas and learn from each other and also interact with other visiting journalists from outside Kashmir,” Maqbool said.

He said it was also a place where the journalists would get to know about the latest news. “It was also a body we looked up to for support and solidarity in case of any trouble and harassment from the authorities. The forcible takeover and closure of the space have also deprived young journalists a learning and interactive space where they would get to know their colleagues and learn from senior journalists in an informal setting.”

Muhammad Raafi is a journalist based in Kashmir. He tweets at @MohammadRaafi