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Press bodies condemn ‘armed’ takeover of Kashmir Press Club

A view of the Kashmir Press Club (KPC) in Srinagar, on Monday, July 15, 2019. File

A view of the Kashmir Press Club (KPC) in Srinagar, on Monday, July 15, 2019. File

Top journalists’ bodies, including the Editors Guild of India (EGI), Press Club of India and Mumbai Press Club (MPC), on Sunday expressed dismay over the “forcible” takeover of the Kashmir Press Club (KPC) by a group of journalists, and demanded restoration of the Club’s registration as a society and early elections.

A group of journalists, headed by Salim Pandit and Zulfikar Majid, had on Saturday arrived at the KPC office in Srinagar and appointed themselves as a new body.

The development came just a day after the Registrar of Societies put in abeyance its own registration issued on December 29, 2021 to the Club, after the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), CID, Srinagar, put on hold the verification process of the members of the management of the Club. Earlier, the Club, set up in 2019, had announced elections for a new body on February 15.

The self-appointed body said it took over the “defunct Club on the popular demand of the journalist fraternity, who were otherwise facing problems on numerous fronts”. The self-appointed body then proceeded to lock the Club for a week.


‘Hostile takeover’

Condemning the incident, the EGI in a statement said, “The Guild demands immediate restoration of status quo before this hostile takeover, announcement of elections to appoint a new management body and strict prohibitions on any armed forces from interfering with the functioning of the Club, without due legal sanction.”

Demanding an independent inquiry as to how armed forces entered the Club premises, the EGI said the armed takeover has effectively scuttled rule-based functioning of the Club.

“Even more disturbingly, the State police entered the premises without any due warrant or paperwork, and have, therefore, been brazenly complicit in this coup, in which a group of people have become self-declared management of the Club. This violation of the sanctity of the Club by the police and the local administration is a manifestation of the continuing trend to smother press freedom in the State,” it added.

The EGI said it was equally alarmed by an arbitrary order of putting the registration of the Club in abeyance a day before this armed takeover.

Plea to L-G

The PCI said it was deeply concerned over developments where “an attempt has been made to deliberately derail the democratic process of holding elections and throttle the body... The PCI appeals to the Lieutenant Governor, J&K, to look into the matter, restore registration and facilitate the process of election,” it added.

The Mumbai Press Club (MPC) also condemned the “forcible takeover”.

The MPC said that to dub those who are writing and reporting in a balanced manner as “anti-national is a cause of concern, and to derail a legally registered body from holding its own election process smacks of autocracy and is a violation of the freedom of the press guaranteed under the Constitution”. It also demanded that the registration of the Club be restored.

The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) also expressed its dismay over the events that unfolded at the KPC office in Srinagar on Saturday.

‘COVID violation’

However, in a statement, the new body said: “The policemen shown in the pictures were PSOs of one of the journalists. It was a day of COVID lockdown in Srinagar district and on finding an unusually big presence of visitors at the Club, the local police station was enforcing SOPs outside the club on the main road. So who were the ‘armed forces' to have barged into the Club? Or is a Press Club supposed to be above law?”

The self-styled body said the EGI, the PCI and MPC instead of adhering to journalistic standards of verifying the other side of the story, came up with a half-baked and sensational statement as if some “government sponsored coup” had really taken place.

The unelected body also closed the KPC and barred scribes from entering the premises for a week on the pretext of “a member testing positive for COVID-19 during the takeover on Saturday”.

“The incident and the circumstances of ‘takeover’ came as a shock. The club has been locked from outside and no member was allowed to enter on Sunday. The incident has pained us all as this institution had been functioning with a sheer focus of seeking welfare of its journalist members,” elected KPC president Shuja-ul-Haq said in a statement.

Mr Haq said throughout his tenure the Club has tried to act with utmost professionalism, without any bias, political or ideological bias. “I urge the administration and the L-G, J&K, to look into the matter and ensure the institution is allowed to function democratically,” Mr. Haq said.

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Printable version | May 17, 2022 9:47:00 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/press-bodies-condemn-armed-takeover-of-kashmir-press-club/article38278475.ece