The Press Club of India (PCI) on Thursday termed the cancellation of the Kashmir Press Club’s registration and takeover of its premises by the Jammu and Kashmir administration as “illegal” and said such “coercive action” against journalists will adversely affect the image of the Union Territory.
In a letter to Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, seeking his “effective intervention” in the matter, the PCI also said the administration’s move violated the “basic constitutional rights” of the local journalists.
The action was “deliberately” taken as the elected management committee of the Kashmir Press Club (KPC) had announced the date for elections next month, the PCI alleged.
“It is our humble request to you that the registration of the Kashmir Press Club and allotment of the club’s land and building be restored immediately to protect the freedom of the press in the state,” the PCI urged the Jammu and Kashmir lieutenant governor.
The journalists’ body also demanded that the obstacles created in conducting fair and peaceful elections, according to schedule, should be removed.
“The managing committee of the Press Club of India is deeply concerned that the local administration did not take any cognisance of the appeal made by all of us to you on January 16,” it said.
Instead of responding to the questions that were raised, the Jammu and Kashmir administration “unilaterally” revoked the registration of the KPC and seized control of the land allotted to the club, without granting the democratically elected body a chance to make its case, the PCI added.
“We believe that cancellation of the registration of the Kashmir Press Club and handing over it to some people by removing the elected office bearers were unfair and illegal actions. Taking possession of the democratically run press club’s land and its premises by the State Estates Department is a violation of basic constitutional rights of local journalists,” it said.
What is “most troublesome” in this entire episode is that a factional war within journalist groups was presented as the front behind which the administration executed its “coercive action”, the PCI added.
“This misbehaviour and the coercive action against journalists will adversely affect the image of the state,” it said.
The local administration’s action is not only “undemocratic and illegal” but also an attack on the freedom of the press, the PCI said, demanding that an impartial inquiry into the episode is necessary to bring the truth out.
The PCI noted that the administration “forcibly” took possession of the KPC’s land and its premises even though “the renewal certificate” of the registration of the club was handed over to its office bearers “just a week ago.” The current elected management committee of the club had announced the date for elections next month but the local administration “deliberately” derailed the election process with its “unilateral action”, it said “The unfortunate developments in the last few days are an attempt to forcibly interfere in the work of journalists and keep them under pressure and fear of administrative coercion, armed security forces and police. No democracy can run without the absence of a free media,” the PCI said.
“There should be effective intervention at your level to remove the obstacles created in conducting fair and peaceful elections as per schedule,” it said in its letter to Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Sinha.