Saturday, April 13

Independent Kashmir Press Club Closed in Media Crackdown | cashmere

The future of press freedom in Indian-administered Kashmir has been called into question after pro-government journalists and police officers forcibly seized his independent press club, which authorities subsequently closed down.

The incident, which follows the harassment and arrest of dozens of journalists in Kashmir in recent months, is the latest attack on independent journalism in the region, which is disputed between India and Pakistan.

A small group of journalists supporting the Indian government stormed the Kashmir Press Club with the help of armed policemen over the weekend, allegedly threatening their governing body, and locked the building, preventing journalists from entering.

The club, which has angered the government for defending press freedoms and critical reporting, came close to holding new elections.

The overthrow was widely condemned. The Publishers Union of India said it was “appalled at the manner in which the office and management of the Kashmir Press Club… were taken over by force” and accused the state of being “blatantly complicit in this coup”.

The former chief minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, Omar Abdulllah, also called it a “state-sponsored coup”.

The worst fears of the independent journalist community in Kashmir were confirmed on Monday when the regional administration declared that the press club had been deregistered as a society and “ceased to exist”, and that the land it stands on was being returned to the hands of the government. .

“It seems that the ultimate goal was to shut down the Kashmir Press Club,” said its secretary general, Ishfaq Tantray. “With this action they wanted to stifle the voice of journalists that resonated in the forum… the only democratic and independent journalistic organization” in the region.

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The government defended its actions as protecting press freedom and guaranteeing the “safety of bona fide journalists.”

There has been a growing crackdown on independent journalism in Kashmir since the Narendra Modi-led national government unilaterally revoked the region’s autonomy in August 2019, stripped it of statehood, dissolved its government and brought it under the control of Delhi. .

Journalists reporting critically in the region have faced intimidation, harassment, and lengthy and grueling interrogations and investigations. More than 40 have been raided or questioned by police in the past two years or placed on no-fly lists, preventing them from leaving the country.

The government also introduced a draconian new media policy for Kashmir in June 2020, which introduced mandatory background checks for journalists and gave the administration the power to prosecute those who officials decide are spreading misinformation or false news.

The press club is the last independent civil society group, after the Kashmir High Court Bar Association and the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce, to be forcibly prevented from holding elections since August 2019.

“Journalism has been stifled in the region, especially in the last two years, with continual citations and arrests of journalists,” said Fahad Shah, editor of the local Kashmir Walla newspaper. “There have also been multiple raids on the homes and offices of journalists. It is unfortunate how brazenly power is being used and laws are being botched to force people to follow a line that the government is comfortable with.”

Sajad Gul, a Kashmiri freelance journalist who has reported on alleged “fake encounters” in which the military stages the killing of civilians as militants, was detained on Monday under the Public Security Act, a law that allows the arrest of civilians. people to avoid acting against state security.

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Shah, who has published Gul’s work, said he had been arrested for doing his job and that Kashmir Walla’s lawyers were fighting his case. “Press freedom in Kashmir has been a casualty of the current government,” he said.

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