New Delhi: The Editors Guild of India on Sunday condemned a “coup” at Kashmir Press Club (KPC) by the Jammu and Kashmir administration and termed it a continuing trend to smother press freedom in the union territory with the help of police who have been “brazenly complicit” in it.

In a strong statement, the Guild said it was aghast at the manner in which the office and management of KPC, the largest journalists’ association in the valley, was forcibly taken over by a group of journalists with the help of armed policemen on Saturday.

The Guild said even more alarming is that the Jammu and Kashmir Police entered the premises without any due warrant or paperwork and had “therefore been brazenly complicit in this coup, in which a group of people have become self-declared management of the club.”

The Guild is equally alarmed by an arbitrary order of putting the registration of the Kashmir Press Club “in abeyance” by the Registrar of Societies, a day before its takeover.

“The armed takeover has effectively scuttled this rule-based functioning of the club,” the statement said, adding that this violation of the sanctity of the club by the police and the local administration is a manifestation of the continuing trend to smother press freedom in the union territory.

The Guild also referred to the arrest of Sajad Gul, a young journalist, for merely posting a video on social media which showed a family protesting against the government.

Demanding immediate restoration of the status quo before this hostile takeover, the Guild called for holding of elections to appoint a new management body and executive council, and strict prohibitions on any armed forces from interfering with the functioning of the club, without due legal sanction.

“The Guild further demands an independent inquiry as to how armed forces entered the club premises,” the statement added.

The statement of the Guild comes a day after the KPC witnessed unfamiliar activities when a few journalists accompanied by policemen reached there and claimed to be its “new management”.

The policemen were stated to be Personal Security Officers of one of the journalists who had released a statement to the media stating that “some journalist forums” had chosen them to be new office-bearers, a claim contested by nine journalist associations from the valley.

The move had also drawn strong reactions from politicians with former chief minister and National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah terming it a “state-sponsored coup” and hitting out at one of the journalists of the interim body, saying “there is no government this ‘journalist’ hasn’t sucked up to and no government he hasn’t lied on behalf of. I should know, I’ve seen both sides very closely. Now he’s benefited from a state sponsored coup.”

Former chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted that the government does not want a “debate on the oppression unleashed” in JK.

She said today’s incident was a “state sponsored coup at KPC” which would put the “worst dictators to shame”.

Both the former chief ministers shared a purported picture from inside the KPC office showing two policemen holding their assault rifles, with Mehbooba saying it conveyed the most obvious yet disturbing reality gripping Kashmir.

In an order, the Registrar of Societies, Jammu and Kashmir, said the office of the Senior Superintendent of Police, CID, has put on hold the non-involvement and verification of character and antecedent certificate of the members of the managing body of the KPC.

“The re-registration granted (to the KPC) on December 29, 2021 is hereby kept in abeyance till the receipt of final report from additional district magistrate, Srinagar,” the order of January 14 read.

The KPC had on Thursday announced it will hold elections to form a new body on February 15. However, after its registration was put in abeyance, the elections were deferred.

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