Several press bodies have condemned the takeover of the administration of the Kashmir Press Club by a group of journalists on Saturday.

In a statement released on Sunday, the Editors Guild of India described the chain of events as a “hostile takeover” and demanded immediate restoration of the status quo. The Press Club of India urged the lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir to look into the matter.

On Saturday, a group of journalists had entered the press club accompanied by paramilitary forces and held an election to appoint functionaries for the Kashmir Press Club. A day before the takeover, the Jammu and Kashmir administration had suspended the registration of the press club.

Then it was announced on the press club’s official WhatsApp group and email address that “various journalist organisations across Kashmir valley unanimously decided to form an interim body of three members with M Saleem Pandit as president, Zulfikar Majid, [the] bureau chief of [the] Deccan Herald as general secretary and Arshid Rasool, editor [of the] Daily Gadyal as [the] rreasurer of the club till elections are held in free and fair manner,” according to Newslaundry.

Elections to the officer bearers’ posts could not be held earlier due to a delay in the registering the press body.

In its statement, the Editors Guild pointed out that the press club had been re-registered on December 29 and it had been announced on Thursday that elections to appoint a new management and an executive committee would be held on February 15.

“The armed takeover has effectively scuttled this rule based functioning of the club,” the statement said. “Ever more disturbingly, the state police entered the premises without any due warrant or paperback, and have therefore been brazenly complicit in this coup, in which a group of people have become self-declared management of the club.”

The Editors Guild said that the police and the local administration’s actions were the “continuation of the trend to smother press freedom in the Union Territory”. It demanded that an announcement be made for fresh elections to the press body and an investigation be conducted as to how the armed forces entered the premises of the club.

Nine Kashmiri press bodies also called the deployment of security forces “illegal” and “highly condemnable”. The group said that the administration has “set a long precedent” by allowing some people to take over the club.

The statement said that the a group of journalists, including some non-members of the club, had approached the administration with a proposal to elect an “interim body” after which the registration was put on hold. It said that the move is “uncivil, illegal, unconstitutional and without any precedence”.

“All journalist bodies are unanimous in their 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 KPC [Kashmir Press Club] constitution and bylaws.”

The Press Club of India described Saturday’s happenings as an attempt to “deliberately derail the democratic process of holding elctions and throttle the body of journalists”. The journalists’ body said that the presence of police in the Kashmir Press Club premises was “highly condemnable and totally illegal”.

The Mumbai Press Club, in a statement, demanded that the registration of the Kashmir press body be restored and its legally elected body be allowed to hold elections “freely and fairly without threats and sans the shadow of the gun”.

Club was in a mess, so we took over, says new KPC chief

Meanwhile, Pandit told Newslaundry that there was an impression that he was “being dictated what to do”, but it was not true.

“I am the last person to take dictations,” he said. “Please don’t attach any motives to us. I have no ill motives or grudges against anybody. Please give me time and support, we will make it a beautiful and wonderful press club.”

When asked about the takeover, he said: “We felt that this club is in a mess, so we took over.”

On the armed deployment outside the club, Pandit told the news website that it was the “administration’s job.”

However, another member of his group told Newslaundry that it was necessary or “they would have killed us”. He did not specify who he referred to as “they”.

Pandit also claimed that his election to the post was “unanimous” and that the new management was just an “interim body” till elections are held. However, he did not say when the elections would take place.