New York, Jan 13 (KMS): Global watchdog Human Rights Watch in its annual report 2022 describing events of 2021 has said that in February 2021 the Indian government finally lifted an 18-month internet shutdown in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, which was imposed in August 2019 after New Delhi revoked its special status.
In September 2021, after the death of top APHC leader Syed Ali Gilani, India once again imposed restrictions on movement and enforced a near-total communications blackout for two days to prevent a mass gathering at his funeral.
Gilani’s family said that they were denied the right to conduct proper final rites.
In July of last year, four UN human rights expert mandates wrote to the Indian government urging an inquiry into the death in custody of Muhammad Ashraf Khan Sehrai, who was detained in July 2020 under the Public Safety Act, a preventive detention law.
In March, five UN expert mandates wrote to the Indian government seeking information about the detention of Kashmiri politician Waheed Para, the custodial killing of a shopkeeper Irfan Ahmad Dar, and the enforced disappearance of Naseer Ahmad Wani. They raised concerns about “the repressive measures and broader pattern of systematic infringements of fundamental rights used against the local population, as well as of intimidations, searches and confiscations committed by national security agents.”
Journalists in Kashmir faced increased harassment by the authorities, including raids and arrests on terrorism charges. In September, police raided the homes of four Kashmiri journalists and confiscated their phones and laptops. In June, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concerns over arbitrary detention and intimidation of journalists covering the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the HRW report mentioned.
The report added that the black law Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which remained in effect in occupied Jammu and Kashmir and in India’s northeastern states provides effective immunity from prosecution to Indian forces in uniform, even for serious human rights abuses.
The HRW report said that in India , the Hindu mobs with impunity beat up Dalits, Tribal Groups, and Religious Minorities
Hindu mobs beat up Muslims, often working class men, with impunity while pro-BJP supporters filed baseless complaints against critics, especially religious minorities.
In January, a Muslim stand-up comic, Munawar Faruqui, and five of his associates were arrested on a complaint brought by the son of a BJP politician who accused him of hurting Hindu sentiments in jokes Faruqui apparently did not utter. Police subsequently admitted they had no evidence of the performance.
In October, over 200 men and women allegedly belonging to the BJP youth wing and affiliated Hindu nationalist groups Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal attacked a church in Uttarakhand state, vandalizing property and injuring several churchgoers. The attack came soon after the VHP allegedly threatened to demolish churches in Madhya Pradesh state’s Jhabua district, claiming they were doing illegal religious conversions. Hindu nationalist groups also attacked churches in Chhattisgarh state. Several states enacted or amended laws ostensibly to prevent forced religious conversions, but these laws have been largely used to target minority communities, particularly Christians, Muslims, Dalits, and Adivasis.
In September, the National Crime Records Bureau reported that 50,291 cases of crimes against Dalits were reported in 2020, an increase of 9.4 percent over the previous year. Crimes against tribal communities also increased by 9.3 percent, at 8,272 cases.
Civil Society and Freedom of Association
In July, the death of jailed tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, 84, was emblematic of the ongoing persecution of rights activists. Swamy was arrested on politically motivated terrorism charges in the Bhima Koregaon case, related to caste violence in Maharashtra state in 2017. Fifteen other prominent human rights defenders are charged in this case. The UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders said Swamy’s death “will forever remain a stain on India’s human rights record.”
In February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described people participating in various peaceful protests as “parasites.”
Hundreds of thousands of farmers, many of them from the minority Sikh community, protesting amendments to farm laws since November 2020, were accused by BJP leaders and pro-government media of having a separatist agenda.
Following violent clashes on January 26, 2021 between the police and protesting farmers in which one protester died, the authorities filed baseless criminal cases against journalists, shut down the internet at multiple sites, prevented journalists from entering protest sites, and ordered Twitter to block hundreds of accounts. In February, the authorities arrested a climate activist, Disha Ravi, accusing her of sedition and criminal conspiracy for allegedly editing a document providing information on the protests, and issued warrants against two others. In March, several UN human rights experts raised concerns over government’s measures to restrict the protests, intimidate those involved, and stifle public debate about them.
In October, police arrested the son of a BJP minister on accusations that he ran over and killed four protesting farmers in Uttar Pradesh state with his car. An angry mob, in retaliation, then killed three men in the car, including the driver. A journalist also died in the violence.
In September, government financial officials raided the home and office of Harsh Mander, an activist, in Delhi, alleging financial and administrative irregularities. In July, the government restricted funding for 10 international nongovernmental organizations working on climate change, environment or child labor, using the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.
In June, the Delhi High Court, while granting bail to three student leaders arrested on terrorism charges in relation to communal violence in Delhi in February 2020, said, “in its anxiety to suppress dissent, in the mind of the State, the line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred.”
UN human rights experts repeatedly raised concerns over misuse of counterterrorism laws to bring criminal charges against human rights defenders. In April, UN rights experts wrote to the Indian government on the alleged arbitrary detention of Adivasi human rights defender Hidme Markam on terrorism charges, saying the arrest appeared to be in response to her human rights work, and in particular her work to highlight instances of sexual violence against women by state security forces.
Freedom of Expression and Privacy Rights
The authorities continued to intimidate and harass journalists and news outlets critical of the government through politically motivated lawsuits and tax raids. In July, the Indian news website The Wire reported that at least 300 Indian phone numbers, including those of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, government officials, and opposition politicians, were included on a list of potential targets for advanced Israeli spyware Pegasus. Phone numbers of several activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, as well as some of their family members were also on the leaked Pegasus list. In October, the Supreme Court, in response to several petitions related to the use of Pegasus spyware, appointed an independent panel to investigate the allegations of illegal surveillance.
In February, the government enacted the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which target internet intermediaries, including social media services, digital news services, and curated video streaming sites. While the government said they aimed to curb the spread of “fake news,” they allow greater governmental control over online content, threaten to weaken encryption, and would seriously undermine rights to privacy and freedom of expression online. In June, three UN human rights experts said the rules did not conform with international human rights norms.
Women’s and Girls’ Rights
The alleged rape and murder of a 9-year old Dalit girl in Delhi in August once again spotlighted that Dalit women and girls are at heightened risk of sexual violence. In August, a 24-year-old woman and her male friend from Uttar Pradesh died after setting themselves on fire in front of the Supreme Court, alleging harassment by state police and judiciary in retaliation for her rape complaint against a member of parliament.