Kashmir Press Club locked down; Editors Guild of India condemns 'coup', slams J&K administration


SRINAGAR, Jan 16: A day after it witnessed a virtual coup, the Kashmir Press Club was locked down on Sunday by its new management citing COVID-19 infection of a member, even though the Editors Guild of India and other journalists' organisations condemned the forceful takeover and said it was part of a continuing trend to smother press freedom in Jammu and Kashmir.
A notice put up at the club gate stated that it has been shut after the detection of a COVID-19 positive case and an email was sent to its members asking them not to visit the club located near the posh Polo Ground area of the city for one week.
"I was informed by the gatekeeper that two persons from the interim body told him to shut the gates of the club and not let anyone inside as a member had tested positive," the manager of the club, Sajad Ahmad, said.
The email from the interim body, which has come under severe criticism, claimed that its email account was "hacked by miscreants" and that a formal complaint "was being filed against the incident of the account hacking and subsequent mischief".
In New Delhi, the Editors Guild of India issued a strongly worded statement condemning the "coup" at KPC by the Jammu and Kashmir administration and termed it a continuing trend to smother press freedom in the union territory with the help of police who have been "brazenly complicit" in it.
The Guild said it was aghast at the manner in which the office and management of KPC, the largest journalists' association in the valley, was forcibly taken over by a group of journalists with the help of armed policemen on Saturday.
The Guild said even more alarming is that the Jammu and Kashmir Police entered the premises without any due warrant or paperwork and had "therefore been brazenly complicit in this coup, in which a group of people have become self-declared management of the club."
The Guild is equally alarmed by an arbitrary order of putting the registration of the Kashmir Press Club "in abeyance" by the Registrar of Societies, a day before its takeover and said "the armed takeover has effectively scuttled this rule-based functioning of the club".
Demanding immediate restoration of the status quo before this hostile takeover, the Guild called for holding of elections to appoint a new management body and executive council, and strict prohibitions on any armed forces from interfering with the functioning of the club, without due legal sanction.
"The Guild further demands an independent inquiry as to how armed forces entered the club premises," the statement added.
The statement of the Guild comes a day after the KPC witnessed unfamiliar activities when a few journalists accompanied by policemen reached there and claimed to be its "new management".
The policemen were stated to be Personal Security Officers of one of the journalists who had released a statement to the media stating that "some journalist forums" had chosen them to be new office-bearers, a claim contested by nine journalist associations from the valley.
Expressing concern over the development at the KPC, the Press Club of India (PCI) on Sunday demanded its registration be restored and the process for electing office-bearers in a peaceful manner be initiated.
Reports about a faction of journalists having taken over the management of the KPC with support from the local administration amid a heavy police deployment are "a cause of concern and distress", the PCI noted and appealed to Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to intervene in the matter.
The ousted president of KPC Shuja ul Haq sought the intervention of Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha in the issue and ensured the institution is allowed to function democratically.
In a statement put out on Twitter, Haq said Saturday's incident and the circumstances of the takeover by a group of journalists has come as a shock and it has "pained us all" as the institution had been functioning with a "sheer focus of seeking welfare of journalists".
"Throughout our tenure, as was expected from us, we have tried to act with utmost professionalism, without any bias, political or ideological sidings. In the interest of the community and the club, we have also been a bridge between the administration and the journalistic fraternity including during some of the toughest times like the recent COVID-19 pandemic."
He also shared details of the process that was followed by the ousted KPC management and said the elections were announced the very next day when the club received its re-registration papers from the government.
The Kashmir Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), headed by renowned journalist Yusuf Jameel, condemned the incident at the KPC, saying that neither of the factions had any moral or legal justification to stake a claim for managing the club.
"The KUWJ, at this stage, would maintain its distance from the two groups which are interested in 'taking over' the KPC. None of the groups can claim to have any justification -- legal or moral -- to stake a claim for running the affairs of the Club at this stage," the KUWJ said.
The developments at KPC had also drawn strong reactions from politicians with former chief minister and National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah terming it a "state-sponsored coup" and hitting out at one of the journalists of the interim body, saying "there is no government this 'journalist' hasn't sucked up to and 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."
Former chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted that the government does not want a "debate on the oppression unleashed" in JK.
Both the former chief ministers shared a purported picture from inside the KPC office showing two policemen holding their assault rifles, with Mehbooba saying it conveyed the most obvious yet disturbing reality gripping Kashmir.

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