The Press Club of India on Sunday condemned the searches conducted by the National Investigation Agency at the Sringar office of Greater Kashmir, and said that investigators searching laptops and storage devices of journalists was a matter of great concern, the newspaper reported. The press body said it appeared as if journalists were being targeted simply “for being journalists”.

The office of Greater Kashmir was among the ten locations in Jammu and Kashmir that were raided by the NIA on Wednesday, triggering concerns of a crackdown on information and a free press in the region. The agency said it was investigating “non-profit groups and charitable trusts” that were collecting funds and using them for “carrying out secessionist and separatist activities” in the erstwhile state.

Besides the newspaper, investigators searched the premises of Agence France-Presse’s Kashmir correspondent Parvaiz Bukhari, offices of rights activist Khurram Parvez and Parveena Ahanger, along with a non-profit group Athrout, and seized “several incriminating documents and electronic devices”.

In a statement, the Press Club of India said the raids were “so glaringly contrary to the spirit of ensuring media freedoms by governments”.

“Under the media-related laws of Kashmir, journalists have come to face routine harassment as individuals going about their professional work,” the statement signed by PCI President Anand K Sahay and Secretary General Anant Bagaitkar said. “This is regrettable and the Press Club of India calls upon the authorities to revise their approach to the profession of journalism.”

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On the raid on Greater Kashmir, which is the region’s leading English daily, the press body noted that the National Investigation Agency had summoned the proprietor-editor of the newspaper, along with senior officers of the company to Delhi about a year ago for questioning. “That would suggest that nothing out of the ordinary has emerged in the investigation,” PCI added.

In July 2019, Fayaz Ahmad Kaloo, the editor of Greater Kashmir, and Rashid Makhdoomi, its publisher, were summoned to Delhi and questioned by the National Investigation Agency for a week. The investigating agency did not give an official reason for the summons. Some reports suggested they were questioned for the newspaper’s coverage of the 2016 Kashmir protests, triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani. Others had suggested Kaloo’s interrogation was related to a terror funding investigation.

The PCI said that in light of this, it was “extraordinary” that the central agency was now questioning the newspaper’s journalists too. “It appears they are being targeted for being journalists,” it added. “If there is any other purpose, it is far from clear.”

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Editors Guild, Press Club of India condemn sealing of offices of the ‘Kashmir Times’