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Srinagar office of Kashmir Times sealed by the Estates dept

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Kashmiri journalists protest in Srinagar against a new media policy announced this year that seeks to regulate reporting in the disputed region

The action against media offices and journalists is part of the broader crackdown that followed India's illegal move to end the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 past year when all Kashmiri political leaders were arrested, 13,000 Kashmiri youth detained, many of them tortured, young boys summarily executed, protests violently put down, including by using blinding pellet guns, and imposing collective punishments- demolishing and burning entire neighbourhoods and villages. She said they had heard rumours about the government's plan to evict them from the building, but there had been no formal communication from the Estates Department. The government should reverse it and ensure an enabling atmosphere for the press in Jammu and Kashmir free from fear and coercion, he added.

Its owner, Anuradha Bhasin, said the government's action was a "vendetta for speaking out" while noting that no process of law was followed.

"The day I went to court past year, that very day, the state government advertisements to Kashmir Times were stopped", she said.

The eviction was carried out by representatives of the Jammu and Kashmir's estates department, who arrived unannounced, expelled the newspaper's employees without presenting any justifying documents, and then placed seals on its entrance, it said.

The union viewed the J&K authorities' action as "clearly vindictive" and demanded that till the due process of law is applied the office be desealed in the interest of fair play and justice.

On Monday, the estates department of the Jammu and Kashmir region sealed the offices of the Kashmir Times, founded in 1954, without giving its owner/Editor-in-Chief Anuradha Bhasin any communication or eviction notice.

"We have not received any order or any notice", she told the newspaper.

"I don't understand why they are singling out us [journalists] just because we're reporting facts", Bhasin said.

The journalist said they had also approached the court four weeks ago. "We haven't handed over anything to them". All the office infrastructure, including computers, printers, generators etc remain locked inside.

In the meantime, in solidarity, many working journalists in Kashmir are offering free services to the Kashmir Times to help them out in this hard situation.

"The internet services will be made available on postpaid SIMs and verified prepaid SIM cards only", said the order signed by IAS Shaleen Kabra, Principal Secretary to the J&K government.

The official said that the premises had been allotted to the late Ved Bhasin, founder of the Kashmir Times, and was sealed as the journalist had died in 2015. Although, the Indian government claims that landline phones and 2G internet services have been restored in the occupied territory but the residents continue to suffer immensely due to absence of prepaid mobile and 4G internet connectivity, particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have also condemned the move.

"I hope we will fight it out, as the silence which we have endured needs to be broken", Bhasin told Anadolu Agency, while thanking many media professionals in the region for their overwhelming show of support.

"Shutting down her office in Srinagar is straight out of BJP's vendetta playbook to settle scores with those who dare to disagree", she tweeted. "The price of independent reportage is to be evicted without due process", he alleged in his tweet.

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