Rights group, journalists condemn closure of Kashmir’s oldest newspaper

A Kashmiri man reads a newspaper in Srinagar on Feb. 28, 2019. (AFP/File)
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Updated 20 October 2020

Rights group, journalists condemn closure of Kashmir’s oldest newspaper

  • Local estates department sealed the office of Kashmir Times on Monday saying it no longer had the right to occupy the premises
  • Editor Anuradha Bhasin says authorities shut down the office without following due process or serving eviction notice

NEW DELHI: An international media rights group and journalists in Indian-administered Kashmir on Tuesday condemned the closure a day earlier of a bureau of Kashmir Times (KT), the oldest newspaper in the disputed valley.
On Monday, the local estates department sealed the office of Kashmir Times, located in the Press Enclave of Srinagar. The department has not commented officially on why the office was shut down but officials have told media the owner of the building had died and KT no longer had the right to occupy the premises.
“We condemn the ongoing targeting and harassment of @AnuradhaBhasin_ and the Kashmir Times,” the Committee To Protect Journalists tweeted on Tuesday, referring to the editor of The Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin. "Authorities must stop trying to silence independent and critical voices and should respect press freedom.”
On August 5, 2019, the Indian government stripped Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, of its autonomy, and imposed a crippling curfew and communications blackout and arrested dozens of local politicians.
Kashmir Times editor Bhasin, who had filed a petition in India’s Supreme Court challenging the cutting off of internet and telephone lines in the region, said authorities had sealed the paper’s office without giving prior notice.
“Without following any due process or serving any eviction notice, the estate department officials came and asked the people working inside to come out and locked the office," she told Arab News.
A few weeks ago, Bhasin said, she had been evicted in a similar fashion from her government-allotted residence in Hindu-majority Jammu.
“The administration not only evicted me without any notice but handed over my belongings to a new allottee,” she said.
“Why we are being targeted is because we continued to maintain the tradition of maintaining independence despite our sagging finances and constraints," Bhasin said. "We have continued to speak critically of the government’s policies and actions."
KT's closure follows a similar incident on Saturday when the local administration sealed the office of a leading news agency of the region, the Kashmir News Service.
Sehrish Asgar, chief of Kashmir’s department of information, did not reply to several calls and text messages from Arab News seeking comment. The estates department also declined comment on the record but one official, who requested anonymity, said:
“The building that we sealed was in the name of Ved Bhasin, and he expired four years ago. Since this building was allotted in someone else’s name, the government cancelled the allotment in the normal process … we served the notice in July itself and it is not an abrupt sealing.”
The Srinagar-based Kashmir Press Club (KPC) called the move a “vendetta” by the government against media in Kashmir.
“The actions are a clear vendetta against independent journalists and media houses. They don’t want media and independent voices to function freely,” Ishfaq Tantray, KPC general secretary, told Arab News.
KT was first established as a weekly in 1954 and became a daily newspaper in 1964, with two million subscriptions in the region currently.
Bhasin said the government had stopped posting advertisements in Kashmir Times since August last year in retaliation against the paper’s “challenge of the internet ban in the apex court.”
The paper thus had to shut down its print edition in both Jammu and Srinagar and had “paid the price" for being the "voice of the people,” she said.
Fahad Shah, editor of the Srinagar-based web magazine Kashmir Wala, said he had been questioned by authorities several times in recent months for his reportage in what were ongoing attempts to muzzle the press.
“This is just another way of intimidating the press,” he said on the closure of KT’s office.


Thousands killed in Ethiopia’s conflict, Tigray side asserts

Updated 51 min 13 sec ago

Thousands killed in Ethiopia’s conflict, Tigray side asserts

NAIROBI, Kenya: Several thousand combatants have been killed in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, an official with the fugitive regional government has asserted, although claims remain difficult to verify a month after the fighting erupted between Ethiopian and regional forces.
Getachew Reda, a senior adviser to the Tigray leader, in an interview with Tigray TV aired Thursday urged young people and others in the region to “rise and deploy to battle in tens of thousands” days after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed over the weekend declared victory.
With the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front on the run in rugged territory, fears of a drawn-out conflict continue. But with communications and transport links still largely severed to the region of 6 million people, it’s difficult to know the situation on the ground, including the extent of popular support for the TPLF and the number of people killed.
“Our capacity to resist ultimately depends on the support we get from our people,” Getachew said. “It is possible to have the scenario where we stop everything and turn all the people into soldiers.”
He didn’t say how many people are actively fighting but said “our army is doing amazing things with limited numbers,” and he claimed there had been tens of thousands of deaths among Ethiopian forces and those from neighboring Eritrea, which the TPLF insists is also involved. Ethiopia’s government denies that.
Getachew also acknowledged casualties on the TPLF side but didn’t say how many.
Ethiopian forces over the weekend announced they had “full control” of the Tigray capital, Mekele, a city of a half-million people. Getachew said their side had made a “strategic withdrawal” from the city to minimize destruction.
It is not clear how many people were killed as Ethiopian forces moved in on Mekele, but the International Committee of the Red Cross over the weekend said the city’s largest hospital had run out of body bags and staff suspended other services to focus on the wounded.
Ethiopian government spokesman Redwan Hussein didn’t immediately respond to a question about the current estimated death toll in the conflict.