The Editors Guild of India on Thursday criticised the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s decision to abruptly seal the offices of regional daily the Kashmir Times. The Editors Guild said the action was reprehensible, and that it would have “disturbing implications” for the media of the two Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

The newspaper, one of the oldest English dailies in Jammu and Kashmir, had functioned out of government allotted offices since the 1990s.

“Newspapers and Magazines in the undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir were already ravaged by conflict, with editors and correspondents working against difficult odds,” the guild said. “Publications have steadily lost advertising over the last decade. Jammu and Kashmir’s communication shutdowns, followed by the pandemic lockdown, have totally stopped the trickle of revenue. The online editions are crippled by the slow internet speed imposed by the government.”

The guild reminded that the Union Territory administration had forced the Kashmir Times to shut down its Srinagar edition in March. “Instead of assisting the media, which was most needed in these dark times, the administration without any notice took control of the office of Kashmir Times, putting its lock on the door,” the organisation said. “The newspaper editor, Ms. Anuradha Bhasin, and the staff have been denied access to records, computers, furniture and equipment in the office.”

The Editors Guild said it considers the action of the Jammu and Kashmir administration “vindictive” and injurious to the entire free media of the Union Territory. It called on the administration to unseal the offices of the Kashmir Times, and provide an environment in which the media can work without fear.

Press Club of India

The Press Club of India also condemned the administration’s action. “The Press Club of India is dismayed to note that the UT administration of Jammu and Kashmir has continued with its calculated and sustained attacks on the media in the UT, and its efforts to efface the cause of press freedom, without which any claims to democracy become dubious,” the institution said.

The Press Club said the action of sealing the Kashmir Times’ offices “reeks of pettiness and vindictiveness”. It said that action was taken against the daily because its Editor Anuradha Bhasin showed the guts to challenge in court the closure of the internet and curfews in the Union Territory following the abrogation of its special status under Article 370 of the Constitution of India.

The organisation said that the day Bhasin moved the Supreme Court to defend press freedom, government advertisements to the Kashmir Times were stopped. “The message could not be more clear – that it was necessary to back the government’s actions in order to qualify to receive government advertisements,” the club said. “It was clear that a poodle press is the only form of media the government was willing to tolerate.”

The Press Club called the actions of the “militaristic regime” “dictatorial, unconstitutional, without due process”. “The actions of the regime have made India a laughing stock among democratic nations and an object of mockery in dictatorial dispensations, including in our neighbourhood [Pakistan],” it said. “This is to be deeply regretted.” The club also demanded that the offices of the Kashmir Times be unsealed, and reopen the residence of Bhasin, which had been raided and seized earlier in the year.

The Press Club of India also demanded that the Jammu and Kashmir government withdraw the restrictive directives it has made against the media in the Union Territory.

On Wednesday, the Press Association had criticised the sealing of the offices of the Kashmir Times and demanded that they be reopened.

Bhasin, who has been at the forefront of the fight for press freedom and against the internet ban after the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir last year, was evicted from her official residence in Jammu two months ago. The journalist had filed a petition in Supreme Court against the communications blackout imposed in Kashmir after the Centre stripped the region of special status under Article 370.