A number of Kashmiri journalists were waiting outside Kashmir Press Club on Monday morning. The press club’s main gate was locked and they were inquiring who has locked the club.
The police, district administration and the department of the estates denied having knowledge closing the club. As journalists started contemplating some action, a tweet by Delhi based journalist started doing rounds in WhatsApp groups that the Estates Department has taken over the Press Club.
But senior officials of the Estates Department again denied having any knowledge that they have taken over the building. However, later the information department released a press note saying that the government has decided that the allotment of the “premises at Polo View in view of the now deregistered Kashmir Press Club be cancelled and control of land and buildings situated at Polo View Srinagar which belongs to the Estates Department be reverted back to the said Department.”
On January 14, the administration suspended KPC's re-registration certificate of the Press Club leading to speculation that the government wants to take control of it. It was only on December 29, 2021, the government had issued a re-registration certificate of the club under the Society Registration Act, 1860.
On January 15 a group of journalists led by M. Saleem Pandit, who works for Times of India, entered into the press club and announced that they have “taken over” the club's management shocking the journalistic fraternity of the Valley. The move was widely condemned and Pandit’s announcement was described as a “state-sponsored coup.”
The government says it has taken the decision after being “concerned over the emergent situation which has arisen due to the unpleasant turn of events involving two rival warring groups using the banner of the Kashmir Press Club.”
However, journalist bodies rejected the government statement saying the government in its press release has tried to make “its own de-registration of the press club and subsequent coup to take over the club,” as factional war, which was not the case.
“August 5, 2019, is not merely a date, but an act which is being implemented and normalised in Kashmir on a daily basis. Ending Kashmir Press Club for merely being a space of safety and collective thinking for scribes is unfortunate and saddening, threatening too,” says senior journalist Peerzada Ashiq.
“It seems the ultimate goal of the government was to shut down the Kashmir Press Club and for this purpose, the government tried to install a group of journalists. By this action they wanted to stifle the voice of journalists that resonated through the forum called Kashmir Press Club, the only democratic and independent journalist body in the Valley,” says Ishfaq Tantray, general secretary first elected body of the Kashmir press club. He, however, said Kashmiri journalists will keep the flame glowing and confront these challenges.
Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti says, “It seems that the coup & its aftermath was entirely orchestrated to shut down another outlet that served as a medium for journalists to debate & discuss their opinions freely. With every passing day all the safety valves to express dissent are being muzzled.”
While journalists outside closed the gate of the club in the morning, a police jeep fitted with speakers atop was moving announcing that proper Covid protocol should be maintained. Soon after the government's press release, the jeep disappeared from the area.