The Kashmir Press Club (KPC), the largest independent media body in Indian-administered Kashmir, has been forcibly closed following a raid by armed police. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Indian affiliate, the Indian Journalists Union (IJU), condemn the undemocratic closure of the organisation and the Indian administration’s continued stifling of press freedom in the region.
On January 15,a small group of journalists supportive of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party stormed the KPC offices in Srinagar, with the assistance of armed police and paramilitary. The group assumed interim control of the organisation, locking the building to prevent journalists from entering.
Following the raid, the regional administration declared on January 17 that the press club had failed to register itself under the Societies Registration Act and now “ceased to exist”, with its premises handed back to the government.
KPC management had previously begun the re-registration process in May 2021, but due to long government processing delays the registration was not granted until December 29. However, on January 14, the “re-registration” of the club was suspended by the Registrar of Societies, citing a report from the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s Criminal Investigation Department.
The KPC had attracted scrutiny from the government for its members’ reportage of alleged human rights abuses by authorities in the Jammu and Kashmir region.
A joint statement from a collective of journalist associations in Kashmir denounced the shutdown which they termed “highly condemnable and completely illegal”. “All journalist bodies are unanimous in the view that this unfortunate move by a disgruntled lot has set a dangerous precedent by forcing their way into the club office in violation of the KPC constitution and bylaws. The Press bodies have decided to take legal recourse against the perpetrators,” the statement said.
The Indian government has been accused of stifling critical journalism in Kashmir, with over 40 journalists detained or questioned by police in the region since 2020. On January 5, Sajad Gul, a journalist affiliated with the Kashmir Walla, was arrested for disseminating information that promoted anti-government sentiment.
The IJU said: “The Indian Journalists Union condemns the J&K Registrar of Society for putting in abeyance the Kashmir Press Club’s registration and the ‘forcible takeover’ of the Club by a group of journalists, aided by the J&K administration and the police. The KPC, said the Union has been vocal on media issues, sustained harassment and intimidation of journalists in the Valley and the twin actions smack of vendetta and brazen attempt to silence dissenting voices. The Union demands immediate restoration of the Club’s registration as a society and that elections be held at the earliest.”
The IFJ said: “The unconstitutional closure of the Kashmir Press Club violates the democratic principles of the organisation and is a blatant attempt by the Indian Government to silence critical journalism in the Jammu and Kashmir region. The IFJ urges authorities to immediately reinstate the KPC and allow its members to elect a new managing body unhindered.”