“They (the officials ) just came in while staff was busy with work, asked them to come outside and put a lock there.”
Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India
New Delhi — Government authorities sealed the office building of one of the oldest and respected newspapers of Kashmir, The Kashmir Times, in Srinagar on Monday evening.
The editor in chief of the newspaper Anuradha Bhasin alleged that the action of the government was a “vendetta” and linked it with her speaking out critically about the policies of the government.
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
Speaking with Clarion India from her home in Jammu, Bhasin recalled what her staffers in Srinagar told her. “They (the officials ) just came in while staff was busy with work, asked them to come outside and put a lock there.”
She said the action was taken without serving any notice. “No due process was followed. No eviction or cancellation notice was served to allow us to move out. Our infrastructure including furniture and computers and everything is still there.”
She said that the staff are managing the makeshift arrangement but added that it would be difficult to communicate between Srinagar and Jammu office.
She is among the few critical persons who continue raising voice against the government policies particularly over “media suppression” but it has come with a price.
In August last year when the government imposed digital siege in Jammu and Kashmir Bhasin moved to the Supreme Court to get the ban lifted. Five months later the court ruled that freedom of speech and expression and freedom to practice any profession over the medium of the internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g).
“Since last year, particularly when these changes (abrogation of special status) came and then this wave of suppression on media persons I had been speaking out,” she said. “Last year when I went to court against the communication ban, the next day the government ads were stopped to The Kashmir Times.”
On October 4, Bhasin alleged that the brother of former National Conference legislator Shehnaz Ganie, along with some more people, barged into her government allotted apartment in Jammu, and vandalised her house. According to Bhasin, the accused and his men ‘acted in connivance with the estates department and some police personnel’.
On Monday’s incident. She alleged that no notice was served and they were not given any time or chance before their office was sealed . “If there is a due process, you can move out, you can make alternative arrangements or challenge the order.”
Clarion India tried to reach out to the Kashmir Director Estates Department for comment but got no response to the phone calls on the number given on the official website.
As the news broke, kashmiri journalists came out in solidarity with Bhasin and Kashmir Times. They wrote tweets condemning the government action and said that it was an attempt to “stifle press freedom”.
Govt has sealed Kashmir Times daily newspaper's Srinagar office today. It is weeks after its executive editor, @AnuradhaBhasin_, was evicted from a govt residential flat in Jammu. Being a strong voice against curbs on media always, these are tactics to stop such voices.
— Fahad Shah (@pzfahad) October 19, 2020
How Kashmir Times and its editor @AnuradhaBhasin_ is being targeted reminds us:
The state is trying every overt and covert means to stifle press freedom, and voice of those who speak for it, in #Kashmir.
— Aakash Hassan (@AakashHassan) October 19, 2020
Meanwhile Reporter Sans Frontiers, a global media watchdog, said in a tweet that that they were “appalled by this new attack on press freedom in the valley”.
🇮🇳 #India: The office of The #Kashmir Times, one of the most respected newspapers of the region, has just been sealed by the local govt, after its editor @AnuradhaBhasin_ was recently manhandled. @RSF_inter is appalled by this new attack on press freedom in the valley. @pzfahad
— RSF (@RSF_inter) October 19, 2020
Over the last several months, journalists in Kashmir have been complaining of harassment as few of them were booked under strict laws.
— Shams Irfan (@ShamsIrfan27) October 19, 2020
The state would be quite happy to see Kashmir Times fold. When it resumes publication, @AnuradhaBhasin_ should consider sharing a donation link online so that its readers and well wishers both inside Jammu and Kashmir and beyond donate generously to help sustain its publication
— Majid Maqbool (@MaqboolMajid) October 19, 2020
In April, the global media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, said India had dropped two spots on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index and was now ranked 142 in a list of 180 countries.