Kashmir Press Club closure meant to wipe out any trace of independent press in J&K: WP

Washington, January 23 (KMS): The renowned US newspaper, The Washington Post, in response to the Indian government’s act of banning Kashmir Press Club in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir termed it as an attempt to wipe out any trace of independent press in the territory.

The newspaper said that foreign correspondents are not allowed to visit Kashmir without permission from the Indian Home Ministry, and the permission is rarely granted. The Washington Post quoted locals and said that Indian forces are staging fake gunfights, using civilians as human shields, to cover up extrajudicial killings.

The newspaper begins its report with these words: “In Indian-controlled Kashmir, a region mostly off-limits to foreign reporters that is rife with communications blackouts and curfews, local journalists remained one of the few reliable sources of information, even as they operated under difficult conditions.”

But this week, the paper added, the Indian administration shut down the Kashmir Press Club, which had emerged in recent years both as a space for journalists to work and for them to express solidarity with colleagues facing pressure from the government.

The closure signals the dismal state of press freedom in Kashmir, it quoted journalists as having said.

“It amounts to stifling the voice of journalists in the region,” said Ishfaq Tantry, a journalist and the general secretary of the club’s governing body, who called the government action “illegal.” The Editors Guild of India called the shutdown the “worst kind of state heavy handedness” against independent media.

“The crackdown on local media is the latest restriction in the conflict-torn region, which has been roiled by increasing tensions since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked its autonomy and statehood in August 2019.”

“Many news outlets in India considered critical of the government face pressure from authorities, media watchdog bodies say, but journalists in Kashmir work in a far-more restrictive environment and face intimidation and harassment by police and security forces,” the WP said.

“India has a tense relationship with majority-Muslim Kashmir, where it has faced an armed insurgency for more than three decades.”

“Foreign correspondents are not allowed to visit Kashmir without permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi, and permission is rarely granted. Ashiq is among those who have been questioned by the police over their news reporting, and some others face investigation under anti-terrorism laws.”

“There is an attempt to wipe out any trace of independent press and turn whatever exists into a PR vehicle,” said Anuradha Bhasin, the executive editor of the Kashmir Times, one of the oldest dailies in the region. “That is extremely frightening.”

The newspaper was evicted from its government-allotted office space in 2020. Bhasin described the move as retaliation for her petition to the top court challenging the government’s Internet ban in Kashmir. That challenge paved the way for a relaxing of some restrictions.

“Meanwhile, locals have accused security forces of staging fake gunfights, using civilians as human shields, to cover up extrajudicial killings,” the US paper said.