The Jammu and Kashmir authorities on Monday evening sealed the Srinagar office of Kashmir Times, one of the erstwhile state’s oldest and prominent English language newspapers, triggering outrage in the Valley.
Politicians termed the action as the Central government’s effort to silence those speaking out and an attempt to muzzle press freedom in the region. The sealing comes a week after a flat allotted to the newspaper’s editor in Jammu was allotted to the brother of a former legislator by the Jammu and Kashmir’s Estates Department.
“Today, Estates Deptt locked our office without any due process of cancellation & eviction, same way as I was evicted from a flat in Jammu, where my belongings including valuables were handed over to ‘new allottee’,” tweeted Anuradha Bhasin, 52, executive editor of the Kashmir Times. “Vendetta for speaking out! No due process followed. How peevish!” she added.
Today, Estates Deptt locked our office without any due process of cancellation & eviction, same way as I was evicted from a flat in Jammu, where my belongings including valuables were handed over to “new allottee”. Vendetta for speaking out! No due process followed. How peevish! pic.twitter.com/J5P0eKxvbx
— Anuradha Bhasin (@AnuradhaBhasin_) October 19, 2020
Bhasin has been a vocal critic of the government’s over communication curbs when the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked and the region put under lockdown last year on August 5.
She had filed a petition in the Supreme Court demanding the restoration of modes of communication and the taking of necessary steps for ensuring free and safe movement of journalists and media personnel. It was because of her petition that the court in January had directed the administration in Jammu and Kashmir to review the curbs on communication every week.
The newspaper, on its website, wrote that its office in a government building in Press Enclave that houses several other newspaper offices in a similar type of buildings was “sealed without serving any cancellation or eviction notice to Kashmir Times or following any due process of law.”
“The Estates Department employees who came to the office to lock it out told the Kashmir Times staffers working inside to move out. When the Kashmir Times management asked for the orders, the Estates Department officials said that they had no orders and asked them to approach the senior officers instead,” it said in a news report.
Deputy Director Estates Department Mohammad Aslam said that the newspaper was occupying two quarters in the Press Enclave, of which one was taken over by the department “amicably”.
He said that this quarter had actually been allotted to late Ved Bhasin, the founder of Kashmir Times and father of Anuradha Bhasin, in his individual capacity, and after his death its allotment expired and was cancelled.
“Their office is running in another quarter while this quarter was not in the name of Kashmir Times. It was being used for residential purposes by its employees and we had requested for its vacation some two-three months back. Yesterday they themselves handed over the facility,” he said.
Journalists have come out in solidarity with Kashmir Times and Anuradha Bhasin.
A group of 11 journalists has even offered their professional services free to the organisation to support the Kashmir Times editorial team to “sustain the paper in these difficult times”.
“We are aware that Kashmir Times, and its editor, has been at the forefront of fighting against government curbs on communications and press freedom in Kashmir, especially post August 5 clampdown last year, when the majority of the local press was found wanting in reportage, choosing silence over speaking truth to power.