Al Jazeera Journalism Review

KPC outside
The Kashmir Press Club building is pictured through a closed gate after it was sealed by authorities in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, on Tuesday, January 18, 2022. The previous week, a few journalists supportive of the Indian government, with assistance from armed police, took control of the region’s only independent press club. [Dar Yasin/AP]

‘A sense of belonging has been taken away from us’ - the closure of the Kashmir Press Club

The closure of the Kashmir Press Club in January this year came as a major blow to independent journalists in the troubled region who relied on it for camaraderie, respite and a 'place to share ideas'

 

On the afternoon of January 15 this year, a posse of pro-government journalists stormed into the independent Kashmir Press Club in Srinagar, accompanied by at least two men armed with assault rifles, and assumed control of the premises. Shortly after, the club was closed down.

It was a huge blow to the community of independent journalists in the region who have relied on the club for several years for assistance, support and camaraderie as they work under huge pressure from the government over their reporting. Indeed, the Kashmir Press Club, which was formed in 2018, was the largest media body in the region, with around 300 members.

Members of the club and local observers say the takeover was a police operation under the orders of the Indian authorities, although local police claim they were not involved in the operation. However, pictures of armed police standing outside the club were circulated on social media.

KPC1
A sealed lock hangs at the gate of the closed Kashmir Press Club building in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, on Tuesday, January 18, 2022, the week after a group of journalists supportive of the Indian government took control of the region’s only independent press club. [Dar Yasin/AP]

The group, whose leader reportedly arrived in a bullet-proof car, huddled in a room for a quick meeting and then demanded documents, seals and stamps from the office manager who quickly obliged.

Hours later, the group issued a statement declaring that they had taken over the club “to ensure the welfare of journalists” and announced an interim managing body. 

Soon after, the building was locked up, a large, silver padlock left swinging on the black gate of the club.

'Deeply anguished'

These days, foreign journalists rarely obtain permission to go to Kashmir, where rebels have been fighting against Indian control since 1989. This means the community of independent journalists the Club served were the only ones reporting events there. Many have come under a great deal of pressure and harassment from government and police forces for going about their jobs - particularly since Kashmir’s autonomous status was repealed in 2019.

However, this moment felt different.

“What I saw that day was unprecedented,” Shah Umar, a freelance journalist, tells Al-Jazeera. “I had never seen police or paramilitary forces outside or inside the club before.”

KPC7
Shah Umar, a freelance journalist pictured here with his colleague, Hasnain Riza, says the Kashmir Press Club afforded young journalists like him "the opportunity to sit with our seniors and coordinate on projects and deadlines". He adds: "The Press club made that possible." [Sharafat Ali]

Reaction from beyond Srinagar has been strong. The Editors Guild of India said in a statement that it was “deeply anguished by the shutting down of the Kashmir Press Club by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir. With the shutting down of the Club and government reverting the land back to the Estates Department, an important journalistic institution in a region that has seen the worst kind state heavy handedness against any independent media, has been effectively dismantled.”

Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, called it a “state sponsored coup”.

The outgoing elected body of the club also reacted to what it also called an “illegal move". In a statement, it said: "On January 15, the day when the administration had declared weekend lockdown in view of COVID surge, a group of journalists barged into the club office and forcibly took control of the club by keeping the office members hostage. A large number of police and paramilitary personnel were deployed beforehand for this highly condemnable and completely illegal move."

KPC9
Independent journalist Iqbal Sofi uses his laptop while sitting on his scooter. He tells Al Jazeera Journalism Review that the Press Club had "given a home" to journalists who otherwise would have nowhere to work from. "People who don't have access to office spaces are now working from the roadside, or parks and cafes." [Sharafat Ali]

Reporters Without Borders called it an “undeclared coup” and said the region is “steadily being transformed into a black hole for news and information”.

In its own statement on the matter, the New Delhi-appointed administration of Kashmir said: “The factual position is that the Kashmir press club as a registered body has ceased to exist and its legal managing body has also come to a legal closure on 14th July 2021, the date which its tenure came to an end.”

A ‘sense of comfort between deadlines’

The Kashmir Press Club was a place where journalists could freely fraternise, learn from each other and discuss stories with their colleagues. In recent times - particularly since the repeal of Kashmir’s autonomous status - when more and more journalists have been arrested, “summoned” by police for questioning about their reporting or even had their homes and offices raided, the Press Club became a sanctuary and forum for solidarity.

Mirza Waheed, a journalist and a novelist based out of London who was born and raised in Kashmir, says: “The Indian state has had Kashmir's journalists in its crosshairs for quite some time. Delhi has always known how robust and 'noisy' Kashmir's journalists have been, how they've defied the odds to send reports into the wider world about the horrors of the war in Kashmir. The pressures and hardship were always there but for about 25 years or so, many Kashmiri journalists have spoken to the world in the words they choose.”

KPC6
Riyaz Masroor, who reports for the BBC, says of the closure of the Press Club: "A sense of fraternity that the Club invoked in the journalists has been replaced by uncertainty." [Sharafat Ali]

He explains: “The press club was a space for conversation, for a free exchange of words, for journalists to say to one other, ‘so what have you been up to?’, or ‘your photo essay was exemplary’, or ‘how shall I frame this'? It was beginning to assume the form of a public institution, a people’s body with some power. That is why it had to be broken.”

The establishment of an independent Press Club had been long-needed by the time it was set up in 2018, in a building nestled in Srinagar’s upmarket Polo-View market area.

It was eagerly welcomed by journalists working in a region ravaged by conflict and violence for the past 30 years.

KPC3
"Freelancers could get together at the club as it made getting the work done easier. A support system for many like me has been taken away." Syed Shahriyar, independent journalist in Kashmir [Sharafat Ali]

It was a common roof under which the journalist community could come together.

Riyaz Masroor, a senior correspondent with the BBC, explains that over the past few years, the club acted as a kind of “glue” between its members. “It gave them a sense of togetherness and invoked a sense of fraternity. That has been replaced by uncertainty.”

“The Press Club gave the youngsters a chance to interact with seniors, where they could learn and feel some sense of comfort between deadlines. With all the uncertainty and anguish around the closure of the club, I am still optimistic that the issue will be resolved with time and we will have a place to be together under one roof.”

KPC8
Independent journalist and former member of the Kashmir Press Club Aakash Hassan works from a cafe. "The Club brought us all together under one roof and that sense of belonging has been taken away." [Sharafat Ali]

Independent journalist Iqbal Sofi is working on his laptop while sitting on his scooter when he speaks to Al Jazeera Journalism Review about the closure of the Press Club. He says it had "given a home" to journalists who otherwise would have nowhere to work from. "People who don't have access to office spaces are now working from the roadside, or parks and cafes."

Similarly, another independent journalist, Aakash Hassan, now works from a cafe. "The club brought us all together under one roof. That sense of belonging has been taken away," he says. 

"Freelancers could get together at the Club as it made getting the work done easier," explains Syed Shahriyar, another independent journalist. "A support system for many like me has been taken away."

Summoned by police and put up for 'auction'

Following the repeal of Kashmir’s autonomous status in 2019, the Indian government imposed a communication blackout in the region by blocking internet access there. In the absence of communication tools, the Kashmir Press Club acted as a hub for journalists to meet and discuss the increasingly dangerous situation unfolding in the region.

KPC2
"The safety and the comfort of being around our colleagues put us at ease, and now that is gone." Independent journalist Quratulain Rehbar [Sharafat Ali]

Quratulain Rehbar, a freelance journalist based in Kashmir, who has been “summoned” by police over her work, was also recently targeted in a fake online “auction” of vocal Muslim women journalists and activists through the Bulli Bai App.

The app displayed pictures of more than 100 Muslim women “for sale as maids”. The app was taken down in January this year following outrage on social media.

Rehbar is one of the few women journalists still reporting in the region. “Working in Kashmir is really challenging," she says. "Security, surveillance, and intimidation have long been a concern, and now online trolling has added to our worries.” 

With all the online harassment that she has gone through in the recent months, Rehbar says the Press Club had become a place where she would find comfort through sharing her anxieties with her colleagues. “Being around my fraternity gave me the courage to brave the mental trauma.”

Another female journalist, Arjumand Shaheed, echoes her thoughts: "We feel dispersed," she says.

KPC4
"We feel dispersed." Arjumand Shaheed, independent journalist and former member of the Kashmir Press Club [Sharafat Ali]

‘Strengthening our belief in press freedom’

The first ever elections to appoint the governing body of the Press Club were held in July 2019.

There is a reason more than 300 journalists became members of the club and, in a region that sees poor voter turnout at public elections, the Press Club saw near-100 percent voting, says Hassan. 

Hassan regularly contributes to the Guardian in the UK and other international publications. “The place was a rundown structure with not many facilities. But it meant more to the people coming there to sit around and have tea.”

Hassan believes that the growth and strength of journalism in Kashmir over the past few years gave the club a special significance. 

KPC1
Before the club closed: Journalists at the Kashmir Press Club hold a candlelight vigil in memory of Reuters photojournalist Danish Siddiqui, who died last year while working in Afghanistan. [Sharafat Ali]

“The fact that there arose a need to close the place down is a testament to the role it was playing,” he says. “The accessibility to international audiences and the ability to tell Kashmir’s stories to the world strengthened our belief in press freedom. 

“The place symbolised a community; it was an address where we could all come together with ideas. With the closure of the Press Club, we realise a sense of belonging has been taken away from us.”

The club’s closure has made the jobs of freelancers and female journalists especially difficult. Political and social uncertainty in the region make it near-impossible to travel to report or find places to file their stories. Women journalists say they find it particularly demoralising and difficult to work without the comfort and security of being inside the premises of the Press Club.

KPC11
Kashmiri journalists hold a meeting to discuss the shutting of the Kashmir Press Club, the region’s only independent press club, on Thursday, January 20, 2022. Local Kashmiri reporters were often the only eyes on the ground for global audiences, particularly after foreign journalists were barred from the region without official approval several years ago. [Dar Yasin/AP]

“This career comes with expected vulnerabilities and situations like these make it more difficult for us to work freely, which makes our families reassess our career choices. Hence the impression ‘this is not a safe field for a woman’,” says one woman journalist who is working from the home of a colleague when we speak to her. She did not not wish to be named for fear of reprisals. 

‘We feel displaced’

Media has been tightly controlled in Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority region of India, for years. 

Muhammad Raafi and Azaan Javaid, both in their mid-30s, have been working as journalists since 2012. “The strangulation of media in Kashmir is not new,” says Javaid.

Raafi has mostly covered Kashmir for various media, local, national and international; while Javaid - before moving to Kashmir in 2017 - reported from New Delhi, including for the Hindustan Times. On the closure of the Kashmir Press Club, both agree: "We feel displaced"

KPC5
'We feel displaced'. Mohammad Raafi and Azaan Javaid, independent journalists in Kashmir. [Sharafat Ali]

“There have been pressures on journalists from all warring sides since the beginning of armed rebellion in early 1990s. Raids, summoning, intimidation have always been there,” Raafi says.

But since August 5, 2019, when the Indian government annexed the disputed territory, they say, the situation of the media has worsened. It is as if the intention is to create an information black hole, a belief held by many media watchdogs since. “Our colleagues have been arrested and interrogated. Some have been booked under harsh anti-terror laws.”

Raafi and Javaid say that despite the pulls and pressures, many journalists are continuing to work and it was for these journalists that Kashmir Press Club existed. 

“The shutting down of KPC is a means to silence them and also to end whatever solidarity existed between journalists who faced consequences for doing their work uprightly.”

 

 

 

 

More Articles

Silenced Voices and Digital Resilience: The Case of Quds Network

Unrecognized journalists in conflict zones face serious risks to their safety and lack of support. The Quds Network, a Palestinian media outlet, has been targeted and censored, but they continue to report on the ground in Gaza. Recognition and support for independent journalists are crucial.

Yousef Abu Watfe يوسف أبو وطفة
Yousef Abu Watfeh Published on: 21 Feb, 2024
Artificial Intelligence's Potentials and Challenges in the African Media Landscape

How has the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence impacted newsroom operations, job security and regulation in the African media landscape? And how are journalists in Africa adapting to these changes?

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 18 Feb, 2024
Media Blackout on Imran Khan and PTI: Analysing Pakistan's Election Press Restrictions

Implications and response to media censorship and the deliberate absence of coverage for the popular former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), in the media during the 2024 elections in Pakistan.

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 14 Feb, 2024
Digital Battlegrounds: The New Broadcasting Bill and Independent Journalism in India

New legislation in India threatens the freedom of independent journalism. The draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023 grants the government extensive power to regulate and censor content, potentially suppressing news critical of government policies.

Safina
Safina Nabi Published on: 11 Feb, 2024
Pegasus Spyware: A Grave Threat to Journalists in Southeast Asia

The widespread deployment of spyware such as Pegasus in Southeast Asia, used by governments to target opposition leaders, activists, and journalists, presents significant challenges in countering digital surveillance. This is due to its clandestine operations and the political intricacies involved. The situation underscores the urgent need for international cooperation and heightened public awareness to address these human rights infringements.

AJR Contributor Published on: 5 Feb, 2024
Media Monopoly in Brazil: How Dominant Media Houses Control the Narrative and Stifle Criticism of Israel

An in-depth analysis exploring the concentration of media ownership in Brazil by large companies, and how this shapes public and political narratives, particularly by suppressing criticism of Israel.

Al Jazeera Logo
Rita Freire & Ahmad Al Zobi Published on: 1 Feb, 2024
Monitoring of Journalistic Malpractices in Gaza Coverage

On this page, the editorial team of the Al Jazeera Journalism Review will collect news published by media institutions about the current war on Gaza that involves disinformation, bias, or professional journalistic standards and its code of ethics.

A picture of the Al Jazeera Media Institute's logo, on a white background.
Al Jazeera Journalism Review Published on: 30 Jan, 2024
Cameroonian Media Martyrs: The Intersection of Journalism and Activism

Experts and journalists in Cameroon disagree on the relationship between journalism and activism: some say journalism is activism; others think they are worlds apart, while another category says a “very thin” line separate both

Nalova Akua
Nalova Akua Published on: 28 Jan, 2024
Silent Suffering: The Impact of Sexual Harassment on African Newsrooms

Sexual harassment within newsrooms and the broader journalistic ecosystem is affecting the quality and integrity of journalistic work, ultimately impacting the organisation’s integrity and revenue.

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 23 Jan, 2024
Echos of Israeli Discourse in Latin American Media on Gaza

Heavily influenced by US and Israeli diplomatic efforts, Latin American media predominantly aligns with and amplifies the Israeli perspective. This divergence between political actions and media representation highlights the complex dynamics shaping Latin American coverage of the Gaza conflict.

Rita Freire Published on: 23 Nov, 2023
Why have opposition parties in India issued a boycott of 14 TV presenters?

Media workers in India argue that boycotts of individual journalists are not the answer to pro-Government reporting bias

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 23 Oct, 2023
The bombs raining down on Gaza from Israel are beyond scary, beyond crazy

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: As Israel bombarded Gaza for the third night, I found myself closer to a missile hit than I could have imagined

Maram
Maram Humaid Published on: 11 Oct, 2023
Reporter’s Notebook - what I learned from covering the Kalash people

As journalists, our fascination with Indigenous communities can blind us to our ethical obligations to respect privacy and dignity of those we document - we must reflect carefully

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 5 Oct, 2023
The French banlieues and their troubled relationship with the media

Discriminatory media coverage of recent unrest in the suburbs of Paris shows that little has changed since the uprisings of 2005

AN
Ahmed Nazif Published on: 28 Sep, 2023
Why are Zimbabwe’s elections always surrounded by media controversy?

Election season in Zimbabwe has long been shrouded in controversy, with intimidation of opposition activists and journalists, combined with disorganisation at the ballots creating a perfect storm for chaos. This year was no different

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 25 Sep, 2023
Analysis: The media’s coverage of the Pakistan cable car incident

It was a roller coaster ride with news organisations all over the world giving minute-by-minute reports on the daring rescue. How does the media create suspense and is this sort of coverage useful?

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 21 Sep, 2023
How to use data to report on earthquakes

Sifting through data sounds clinical, but journalists can use it to seek out the human element when reporting on natural disasters such as earthquakes

Arwa
Arwa Kooli Published on: 19 Sep, 2023
‘I had no idea how to report on this’ - local journalists tackling climate change stories

Local journalists are key to informing the public about the devastating dangers of climate change but, in India, a lack of knowledge, training and access to expert sources is holding them back

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 13 Sep, 2023
Ethical reporting - how to cover suicide responsibly

Sensationalist reporting of suicide cases has been shown to cause a rise in the numbers of people taking their own lives in affected communities. Journalists must take great care

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 7 Sep, 2023
‘Don’t let someone else narrate your stories for you’ - travel journalists in the global south

THE LONG READ: Life as a travel journalist isn’t just for privileged Westerners ‘discovering’ quaint parts of south-east Asia and Africa

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 1 Sep, 2023
‘People need to stop blindly obeying the law’ - journalists fighting on the fringes in Vietnam

THE LONG READ: Imprisoned, exiled and forced to base themselves overseas, independent journalists in Vietnam are punished harshly if they publish the ‘wrong’ sort of content. Some, such as Luật Khoa tạp chí, are fighting back

headshot
AJR Correspondent Published on: 25 Aug, 2023
Ethics and safety in OSINT - can you believe what you see?

OSINT is increasingly important for journalists in a digital world. We take a look at ethics, safety on the internet and how to spot a ‘deepfake’

Sara
Sara Creta Published on: 15 Aug, 2023
‘Other journalists jeer at us’ – life for mobile journalists in Cameroon

Journalists in Cameroon are using their phones in innovative ways to report the news for many different types of media, but major news organisations have still not caught up

Akem
Akem Nkwain Published on: 1 Aug, 2023
‘Life of journalists is cheap’ - how the Philippines became deadly for reporters

Forging ahead with a career in journalism is fraught with difficulty in the Philippines - and many are walking away. What went so wrong?

Ana
Ana P Santos Published on: 19 Jul, 2023