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Speakers concerned over-criminalization of freedom of expression in IIOJK

Islamabad, March 16 (KMS): Speakers at a webinar hosted by Kashmir Institute of International Relations (KIIR) in collaboration with World Muslim Congress (WMC) have voiced grave concerns over the criminalization of dissent by Modi’s racist regime in the Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

The webinar titled “Criminalization of freedom of expression in IIOJK” was held as a sideline event of the ongoing 49th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Panelists hailing from different parts of the world included Ms Mary Scully, Robert Fantina author and journalist, Barrister Tanvir Munim, Sheni Hamid, Advocate Nasir Qadri, Ms Naila Altaf Kiyani, Prof Dr Shugufta Ashraf, and others. The event was moderated by the KIIR Chairman, Altaf Hussain Wani.

In his initial remarks, the KIIR chief said the right to freedom of peaceful expression is a fundamental human right of every human being. He said this inalienable right has been enshrined in Article 19 of the UN human rights bill. Along with freedom of expression, Wani said, a raft of other international treaties guarantees the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of right to expression, and opinion. These fundamental freedoms, he said, were central for living in an open and free society, in which people can access justice and other judicial remedies.

Defending these rights, Altaf Wani said, have been a core part of the human rights organizations. “Ironically, in today’s Kashmir these essential freedoms remain largely suspended and virtually non-existent”, he said, adding that surveillance on print and digital media, ban on political activities, peaceful assembly and right to expression and witch-hunt against the Kashmiri rights activists by the Indian occupation authorities go largely unnoticed at international level.

The KIIR chief said the Kashmiris have been at the receiving end for the last over 33 years, however, in the aftermath of 5th August 2019 the situation in the region has deteriorated to an alarming level. Since then, he said, “Sedition and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) have been weaponized by India’s racist regime and used routinely against critics of its repressive policies”. He said that the Press Council of India – a government body – in its report has documented evidence of many Kashmiri journalists that speak volumes about how the Indian government was using repressive laws to stifle the dissent in the region.

The use and abuse of these infamous laws by the Indian authorities, he said, has led to ruthless suppression of dissent in the region. “Be it a political worker, journalist, civil society activist or a human rights defender everyone is being silenced by being accused of sedition and other offenses under these draconian laws,” he said.

Citing Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other international laws, the panelists stated that the law clearly states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.” They said it is unfortunate that India’s apartheid regime has been using these laws as a tool to criminalize peaceful expression in the occupied territory.

In addition to the Indian government’s control of the communication process, they observed that the unwanted and uncalled for curbs on media such as surveillance, formal/informal investigations, harassment, intimidation, restrictions in all the process of news-gathering have hugely hampered the journalistic activities in the region besides undermining the role of free media.

Voicing their grave concerns over the prevailing situation in IIOJK, the panelists said, “India has time and again used black laws to stifle the dissent in the territory and suppress people’s legitimate movement for the realization of the right to self-determination.”

Describing these laws as the biggest threat to freedom of expression in occupied Kashmir, they said that criminal defamation, violence against journalists, curbs on the right to information, commercial pressures, and mechanisms to seek control over the media were amongst the worst tactics the Indian government has been using to silence the independent media and journalists in the territory.

The speakers said, in recent years, India’s criminal defamation laws have been used against journalists, activists, and other citizens, raising their voice against the Indian government’s policies of oppression and suppression. “The occupied territory has witnessed an alarming increase in attacks on peaceful speech and expression, especially after 5th August 2019 when Indians in brazen violation of the international covenants stripped Kashmir of its special status,” they added.

They said it is high time that the world community should take effective notice of the situation in the occupied territory and pressurize the Indian government to restore all fundamental freedoms in occupied Kashmir.

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