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.

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.”

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."

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.”

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.

"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.”

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.

"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.

"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. 

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.

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"

'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

Suffering in silence - the Kashmiri journalists facing a mental health crisis

THE LONG READ: Al Jazeera Journalism Review has interviewed more than 20 journalists in India-controlled Kashmir who are facing exhausting, insurmountable obstacles to doing their jobs safely every single day

Adil Akhoon
Adil Amin Akhoon, Khalid Bashir Gura Published on: 29 May, 2023
How to analyse satellite imagery

When you have a story, but still need to tie up loose ends to answer where or when a particular event occurred, satellite imagery can point you in the right direction

Sara Creta Published on: 25 May, 2023
OSINT: Tracking ships, planes and weapons

Tracking ships and planes is an increasingly valuable technique in open-source investigations carried out by journalists. In part 4 of our special series, we examine how it works

Sara Creta Published on: 18 May, 2023
How social media bans have crippled journalism in India’s Punjab

The Indian government has ordered social media platforms to block hundreds of accounts of journalists and activists

Meer Faisal
Meer Faisal Published on: 16 May, 2023
Tear gas and internet blackouts - reporting on protests in Pakistan

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: Following the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, violence has erupted across Pakistan. For journalists, it is like reporting from the centre of a storm

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 14 May, 2023
Remembering Shireen; my colleague and a 'role model for professionalism'

On the eve of the first anniversary of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera's Senior Correspondent in Palestine, her colleague commemorates the compassion, integrity and professionalism which made her the extraordinary journalist and human being that she was

Walid Omary Published on: 10 May, 2023
Planning and carrying out an open-source investigation

Part three of our special series of articles on using OSINT in journalism. This time, follow our four steps to completing an open-source investigation

Sara Creta Published on: 9 May, 2023
What is an open-source investigation?

In the second part of our special series on using open-source intelligence in journalism, we look at what constitutes and open-source investigation

Sara Creta Published on: 4 May, 2023
How misinformation in the media wreaked havoc on an Indian village

When journalists - and social media ‘influencers’ claiming to be journalists - aimed for sensationalism and did not check their facts about the outbreak of the HIV virus in an Indian village, the results were devastating

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 1 May, 2023
Using open-source intelligence in journalism

Where once journalists relied on sources for information - also known as ‘human intelligence’ (HUMINT) - they now increasingly rely on ‘open-source’ intelligence (OSINT) gathered from the internet, satellite imagery, corporate databases and much, much more

Phil Rees Published on: 12 Apr, 2023
Why is life so dangerous for Pakistani journalists?

Pakistani journalists face huge danger in the course of carrying out their work. Why is so little being done to address this?

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 6 Apr, 2023
Investigating the assassination of my own father

As a journalist, reporting on the murder of my father meant answering questions about my own position as an objective observer

Diana Lopez
Diana Lopez Zuleta Published on: 3 Apr, 2023
‘I have disturbing dreams’ - the reporters suffering mental trauma on the job

Remaining objective while bearing witness to atrocities and suffering abuse from authorities is taking its toll on the mental health of journalists in India

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 20 Mar, 2023
Understanding data journalism

Data journalism is about much more than just sorting through facts and figures. In the first part of our series, we look at what constitutes data-based storytelling

Mohammed Haddad
Mohammed Haddad Published on: 16 Mar, 2023
Why are journalists being prevented from reporting on the earthquakes? 

Media workers have played a vital role in ensuring help arrives for earthquake victims in Turkey, but many claim they are being prevented from doing their jobs

Aidan White Published on: 5 Mar, 2023
Field notes from an earthquake - reporting on human misery

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: Where do you draw the line when covering human suffering? When does reporting on a devastating earthquake cross over from objective journalism to tasteless voyeurism?

Ilya U Topper Published on: 20 Feb, 2023
‘I reported the truth - and was taken to jail’ - the journalists in prison in India

Indian journalist Siddique Kappan has been released after more than two years in prison just for doing his job. We talked to him and others who have been arrested or imprisoned

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 15 Feb, 2023
‘Leading the voiceless’ - how low-caste Indian journalists are crowdfunding their own newsrooms

Dalit representation in Indian media organisations is very low. Some journalists from the lowest Hindu caste are finding innovative ways to start up their own news platforms

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 13 Feb, 2023
Investigative journalism: Handling data and gathering evidence

Data is only one part of the investigative story. In Part 5 of our series on investigative journalism, we look at different methods of gathering evidence

Malak Khalil Published on: 9 Feb, 2023
Investigative journalism: Going undercover 

Covert operations for a journalistic investigation should be undertaken as a last resort only. In Part 4 of our series on investigative journalism, we explore the best ways to go undercover

Malak Khalil Published on: 2 Feb, 2023
‘They called us agents of imperialism’ - remembering the bombing of Zimbabwe’s Daily News

Twenty-two years after the bombing of a newspaper printing plant in January 2001, the perpetrators are still at large - and a state-sanctioned assault on a free press continues

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 30 Jan, 2023
Investigative journalism: How to develop and manage your sources

Your sources are the backbone of any investigation. In Part 3 of our series on investigative journalism, we look at how to find, foster and manage them

Malak Khalil Published on: 26 Jan, 2023
Investigative journalism: Hypothesis-based investigations

What is a hypothesis-based investigation, how do you come up with one and how do you investigate and prove it? Part 2 of our series on investigative journalism

Malak Khalil Published on: 19 Jan, 2023
Investigative journalism: What should you investigate?

In the first of our series on investigative journalism, we look at how journalists decide what to investigate

Malak Khalil Published on: 12 Jan, 2023