The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Monday sealed the Srinagar office of Kashmir Times, a leading English daily of the Valley, PTI reported.

The daily is headquartered in Jammu and is published from both the divisions of the Union Territory. The building located in the city’s Press Enclave area was sealed by the government’sEstates Department officials. The space was allotted to them in the early 1990s, according to The Indian Express.

Anuradha Bhasin, the executive editor of the newspaper, accused the administration of having a vendetta against the daily for taking a critical stance about government policies. She told PTI that no notice of cancellation or eviction was served to them and “nothing in writing” was given.

Bhasin said it was “peevish” of the Estates Department to lock the office without any due process, the “same way as I was evicted from a flat in Jammu, where my belongings including valuables were handed over to the ‘new allottee’”. Bhasin was evicted from her official residence in Jammu two months ago.

“Vendetta for speaking out! No due process followed. How peevish!” Bhasin tweeted, sharing a picture of Estates officials locking the Kashmir Times office at Srinagar’s Mushtaq Memorial Press Enclave.

Bhasin said the government was targeting her for speaking against the government and moving the Supreme Court against media restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir after the Centre abrogated Article 370 in August 2019. “The day I went to court last year, that very day, the state government advertisements to Kashmir Times were stopped,” she said.

The journalist had filed a petition in Supreme Court against the communications blackout imposed in Kashmir after the Centre stripped the region of its statehood and the semi-autonomy, which had given its natives special rights in land ownership and jobs.

Meanwhile, Estates Department officials claimed they only “took possession” of a house allotted to the newspaper’s deceased founder Ved Bhasin.

“They have been allotted two buildings – one is office and the other was allotted as a residence to Ved Bhasin sahib,” Deputy Director, Estates, Mohammad Aslam told The Indian Express. “Since Bhasin-sahib died some years ago, we issued them notices to vacate the house. They themselves handed over the building to us and today our officials went to take possession.”

Anuradha Bhasin, however, denied this and said the authorities “simply locked their office”. She said they had heard rumours about the government’s plan to evict them from the building, but there had been no formal communication from the Estates Department.

“We have not received any order or any notice,” she told the newspaper. “Some lower-rung officials used to come to our office, verbally saying that the allotment has been cancelled but when we asked for eviction notice, they never provided it to us. In fact, our staff went to their office, saying if there is any eviction order give it to us...but they weren’t giving.”

The journalist said they had also approached the court four weeks ago. “They have simply locked our office,” she added. “We haven’t handed over anything to them. Our infrastructure is here, our computers are here, all the machinery and technical things are here, our generators and other equipment are here.”

Bhasin said she will challenge the eviction order. “There was no technical reason on which the office could have been sealed,” she told Kashmir Reader. “However, it was due to me speaking up for press freedom. We are going to fight it.”

Politicians condemn move

Mainstream political parties condemned the sealing of the Kashmir Times office and accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of scuttling press freedom and dissent.

“Anuradha [Bhasin] was one of the few local newspaper editors in J&K, who stood up to GoI’s illegal and disruptive actions in the state,” tweeted People’s Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti. “Shutting down her office in Srinagar is straight out of BJP’s vendetta playbook to settle scores with those who dare to disagree.”

National Conference Vice-President Omar Abdullah tweeted, “This explains why some of our ‘esteemed’ publications have decided to become Government mouthpieces, printing only government press handouts. The price of independent reportage is to be evicted without due process.”