The Jammu and Kashmir administration sealed the office of Kashmir Times, one of the oldest dailies in the state, on Monday. Editor of the newspaper Anuradha Bhasin called it persecution and said suppression of the media had become the norm.
“This persecution is part of the suppression of media in J&K since August 5, 2019 — criminal charges pressed against media persons, regular summons, harassment, even beating media persons or evicting them from govt accommodations has become the norm,” Bhasin told Huffpost India.
The office in Srinagar’s Press Enclave was allotted to the Kashmir Times in 1993-1994. Bhasin said that on Monday it was locked “without following due process” with all the office infrastructure — computers, printers, generators —inside the office.
This means that the newspaper will be unable to resume printing the edition that has been shut because of the Covid-19.
Bhasin said a case on theoffice is pending at the deputy commissioner’s court after they approached it in September.
“We had heard rumours from lower rung staff of the Estates department that we were being evicted. But despite contacting the officers, we did not receive any response. We petitioned the Deputy Commissioner’s court where hearing has taken place but an order is pending,” she said.
Apart from pursuing the legal case, Bhasin said the biggest challenge would be to find funds, space and equipment to bring the newspaper back to its feet.
The editor had approached Supreme Court in 2019 against the media blackout in Kashmir after Article 370 was abrogated. Bhasin said that the government had also stopped giving advertisements to the newspaper after that.
On Monday, Bhasin had said on Twitter, “Today, Estates Deptt locked our office without any due process of cancellation and 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!”
Bhasin was also evicted from her official accommodation two weeks ago. She said,“Few weeks ago, I was evicted from a government flat allotted to me in 2000 without following any due process of serving me any cancellation and evictions notices. Locks to my flat were broken (I was not staying there) and the “new allottes” were given charge of the place alongwith my belongings including valuables and important documents that have not still not been given to me.”
Meanwhile, Mohammad Aslam, deputy director of the estates department told The Indian Express, “They have been allotted two buildings — one is office and the other was allotted as a residence to Ved Bhasin sahib... 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 has been a vocal critic of the Narendra Modi government and has criticised muzzling of the press in Kashmir.
In an interview with Huffpost India on the anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370, Bhasin had said that the “new normal” in Kashmir was scary.
Bhasin had filed writ a petition in Supreme Court on the muzzling of the media in Kashmir after Article 370 was abrogated.
Speaking on how free speech and reporting had suffered, Bhasin had said, “Even in the worst of times, because Kashmir has been in a conflict situation, we’ve seen many many challenges, we’ve put up with intimidation, a lot of journalists have been killed. But never before has such a silence been perpetuated. Putting the entire media industry into a state of freeze.”
She had said that the administration wanted to instil fear among those who spoke up with their actions.
She had said, “First came three cases against journalists, two booked under anti-terror law UAPA, another for fake news and these are cases which legally cannot stand. Constantly journalists are being summoned by the police and intimidated and grilled for several hours, asked questions about their stories.”