Kashmir Press Club has “ceased to exist”, the Jammu and Kashmir administration said on Monday as it took back the premises allotted to the largest journalists’ body in the Valley following “dissensions” between two factions, one of which had tacit support from the government.
The administration — which has been facing flak on the issue with the Editors Guild of India terming the events a “coup” and a continuing trend to smother press freedom — cited “unpleasant developments and dissensions between various groups of journalists” as the reason for the takeover of the premises in Srinagar’s high street Polo Ground area.
The administration said it was concerned over the situation that had arisen due to the “unpleasant turn” of events involving two warring groups using the banner of the Kashmir Press Club.
Things came to a boil on Saturday (January 15) when a group of journalists accompanied by policemen armed with assault rifle reached the club claiming to be its “new interim management”. This was a day after the administration had put KPC’s registration “in abeyance”.
The journalists released a statement stating that “some journalist forums” had chosen them to be new office-bearers, a claim contested by nine journalist associations from the Valley.
“The factual position is that KPC as a registered body has ceased to exist and its managing body too has come to a legal closure on 14 July 2021, the date on which its tenure came to an end,” the administration said on Monday.
However, it sidestepped the fact that the KPC had been issued a re-registration certificate on December 29, 2021. This was subsequently placed under abeyance citing police verification on January 14.
On Monday, however, the government said, “… 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 false portrayal of being owner-managers of an entity which is no longer in legal vogue.”
It said some other members have created an interim body using the same banner suggesting a “takeover”.
“However, since the original KPC itself has ceased to exist as a registered body, the question of any interim body is rendered infructuous. In these circumstances, issuing of notices and communication by any group using the rubric of erstwhile Kashmir Press Club is illegal,” it added.
The administration also said rival groups had also been leveling allegations against each other.
“In view of this aspect of the dispute and in view of the reports in 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,” it said.
The administration said it is committed to a free and fair press and believes that journalists are entitled to all facilities, including a place for professional, educational, social, cultural, recreational and welfare activities.
The government “also hopes that a duly registered bona fide society of all journalists shall be constituted as soon as possible and the same shall be able to approach the government for reallocation of the premises”.
The ousted managing body of the Kashmir Press Club said the installation of a group of journalists as an interim body was done with the ultimate goal of shutting down the club.
IJU dismayed over ‘arbitrary act’
Expressing shock and dismay at the takeover of Kashmir Press Club (KPC), the Indian Journalists Union (IJU) said the illegal and arbitrary act by “a self-appointed group of journalists” backed by the New Delhi controlled administration was completely unacceptable.
In a press statement, IJU president K Sreenivas Reddy and secretary general Balwinder Singh Jammu termed the take over as yet another brazen instance of attack on media and freedom of expression by the administration. IJU demanded immediate restoration of status ante.
Ever since Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into two union territories in August 2019, IJU said free media and free speech were under continuous battering. It said that journalists were subjected to various forms of attacks including illegal arrests. The union pointed out that the arrest Sajad Ahmed for posting a video of protest and his continued detention despite bail was the latest example.