An attempt to take over the Kashmir Press Club (KPC), the Valley’s biggest organization of journalists, has rattled the journalistic community with political and media organizations condemning it and calling it an act of disgrace and “state-sponsored coup.”
A few journalists have declared themselves as the “new body” and the press club has been locked for journalists, for the first time since it was set up in 2019, which has over 300 journalists as members.
On Friday the administration suspended KPC's re-registration certificate, leading to speculation that the government wants to take control of it which has been at the forefront to raise concerns of journalists for the past two years. The press club has issued statements condemning the arrest and detention of journalists and has shown solidarity with journalists working in Kashmir whenever they face any trouble
On Saturday a group of journalists led by M. Saleem Pandit, who works for the Times of India, entered into the press club and announced that they have “taken over” the club's management.
“The new body has pledged to ensure the welfare of journalists as its top priority,” Pandit said in his statement issued from press club mail on Saturday afternoon. He accused the existing elected body of delaying “elections for unknown reasons”. However, many members of the club have said that they are not with him.
According to eyewitnesses’ heavy deployment of armed policemen were seen outside the press club during the takeover. The elected general secretary of the club Ishfaq Tantray called the exercise illegal saying the staff of the club were “threatened” to hand over seal and writing pads. “They told office boy to move out of the computer and then mailed their statement from it. It was all illegal,” says Tantray.
Hours after the take-over, the elected body issued a statement of nine journalist unions through the press club's official WhatsApp group and email. It said: “All Kashmir-based journalists have expressed anguish over the illegal and arbitrary takeover of the Kashmir Press Club by some journalists with open support from the local administration. On January 15, the day when the administration had declared weekend lockdown in view of Covid-19 surge, a group of journalists barged into the club office and forcibly took control of the club by keeping the office members hostage. Large number of police and paramilitary personnel were deployed beforehand for this highly condemnable and completely illegal move,” the union's statement reads.
“We appeal to the press bodies across the country including Press Council of India, Press Club of India, Federation of Press Clubs and Editors Guild of India to take a strong note of how the local administration is supporting lawlessness and throttling a democratic media body," the statement further says.
Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah called it a state-sponsored coup. Mehbooba Mufti also condemned the move. “State agencies here are too busy overthrowing elected bodies & firing govt employees instead of discharging their actual duties. Shame on those who aided & facilitated this coup against their own fraternity,” she said.