Srinagar: International media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday expressed shock over the expulsion of Kashmir Times journalists and sealing of their office alleging that the Jammu and Kashmir administration no longer even bothers to provide a “legal facade to the actions it takes to attack the free press”.
“The arbitrary way the Kashmir Times’ journalists were expelled from their office is extremely shocking,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk in a statement issued Wednesday.
“The Jammu and Kashmir administration no longer even bothers to provide a legal facade to the actions it takes to attack the free press. We ask India’s supreme court to intervene in this flagrant violation of article 19 of the constitution,” he added.
The RSF statement further said that the government officials evicted journalists from Kashmir Times office and then sealed the premises. The RSF said it was by this ‘reprisal’ against a leading regional daily.
“The eviction was carried out by representatives of the regional government’s estates department, who arrived unannounced, expelled the newspaper’s employees without presenting any justifying documents, and then placed seals on its entrance,” the RSF said.
The RSF statement quoted Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin calling the closure of the newspaper’s office as “vendetta for speaking out.”
“All our office infrastructure, including computers, printers, generators and so on, are locked inside to prevent us from producing our print edition in Srinagar,” she told RSF.
Bhasin told RSF that she was evicted in a similar manner a few weeks ago – without being served any cancellation and eviction notices – from the apartment the government had allotted to her in 2000.
“Locks to my flat were broken, as I was not staying there, and the new [tenants] were given charge of the place along with my belongings, including valuables and important documents that have not still not been given to me,” she said.
According to the RSF statement, Bhasin thinks she was paying the price for her determined defence of a free press in Jammu and Kashmir since the region’s autonomy was revoked in August 2019 and, in particular, for the petition she filed with India’s supreme court challenging the simultaneous decision to disconnect the region’s telecommunications.
“Since then, the state government stopped all advertisements to Kashmir Times, she told RSF.
One of the oldest English-language publications in the Kashmir Valley, the Kashmir Times is widely respected, so its eviction from its Srinagar office had stunned many of the region’s journalists, the watchdog said.
“I started my journalistic career at this newspaper, which has traditionally been fiercely independent,” Athar Parvaiz told RSF. “The atmosphere encouraging fearless journalism at the Kashmir Times has always been great and I benefited enormously while working there.”
“Many of the journalists based in Jammu and Kashmir started their careers at the Kashmir Times,” said Syed Ali Safvi, another of its former reporters. “Over the years it has given voice to the voiceless and established itself as an institution you could trust. It is really painful to learn that its office has been sealed.”
India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
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