New Delhi, October 21, 2020–The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the ongoing harassment of the Kashmir Times and its editor, Anuradha Bhasin, by the Jammu and Kashmir administration and called on authorities to immediately reopen and allow staff to work from its Srinagar office.
On October 19, officials from the Estates Department of the region’s administration forced out employees and sealed the Srinagar office of the independent, English-language daily Kashmir Times without advance notice or legal documentation, according to multiple news reports and Bhasin, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview. Bhasin said the newspaper has faced various retaliatory actions from authorities, including blocking of access to government information for the newspaper’s reporters and a complete halt to state government advertising since October 2019, ever since she filed a petition in August 2019 with the Supreme Court against internet and communication blocks imposed by the government. On September 28, authorities from the Estates Department also cancelled her government-allotted apartment in Jammu city without prior notice and gave the apartment, along with her personal belongings, to the new allottee, she said.
“Sealing the Kashmir Times office is overt retaliation against the newspaper and its editor for daring to speak up about the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s attempts to silence the press,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher. “Authorities should immediately allow the Kashmir Times to resume its operations from Srinagar and stop their campaign of harassment and intimidation.”
The Kashmir Times office in Srinagar is located in the press enclave of the city and was allotted to the newspaper by the government in 1993, Bhasin said. Seven employees and reporters work out of this office, she said. Both the newspaper office in Srinagar and an apartment in Jammu city were allotted to her newspaper under the Jammu and Kashmir estate department rules on media personnel, she said.
According to a tweet by Bhasin late today, her newspaper secured a stay on the sealing proceeding for the Kashmir Times office from the Srinagar district collector until October 30; however the Estates Department has still refused to open the locks of the Srinagar office, she said.
A senior official from the Estates Department, who asked not to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media, told CPJ via messaging app that the Kashmir Times’ Srinagar office was allotted to Bhasin’s father, Ved Bhasin, when he was the editor and the authorities cancelled it due to his death. Bhasin said the premises were allotted to the editor of the newspaper and questioned why the government had waited four years after her father’s death. “Even if the government wants to reallocate the same property, why is the government not following the due legal process?” she asked.
The official from the Estates Department alleged that Kashmir Times operates out of another address in Srinagar. Bhasin denied the claim. “That’s a flat allotted to my husband and we live there. You can’t expect me to run a newspaper from my bedroom,” she said.
The newspaper is facing a major financial crisis due to lockdowns in Kashmir, first imposed by the government when the region’s autonomy was revoked in August 2019 and then subsequent restrictions imposed in March 2020 to control the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. Bhasin said private advertising to the newspaper had also stopped, since the lockdowns had hurt the region’s economy. According to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry, as of late May, the region’s economy has lost 312 billion rupees (US$4.2 billion) due to both lockdowns.
Since August 2019, CPJ has documented instances of authorities harassing journalists with legal action, and news outlets impacted by the lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir. In June 2019, Bhasin spoke with CPJ about how a central government advertising ban had impacted the newspaper.