Speakers denounce India for using black laws to suppress press freedom in IIOJK

Islamabad, June 05 (KMS): Speakers at a webinar hosted by Kashmir Institute of International Relations (KIIR) and World Muslim Congress (WMC) strongly denounced the Modi government for using  black laws like UAPA to suppress press freedom and dissent in the Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

According to Kashmir Media Service, the webinar titled ‘UAPA: A hanging sword on journalists and human rights defenders in IOK’ was organised on the sidelines of the 50th session of UN human Rights Council in Geneva.

The webinar was addressed by noted human rights activists, academicians and law experts from different  Prof, Dr. Amina Mehmood  of International Islamic University, Director LFK Advocate Nasir Qadri and Owais Bin Wasi acting Dean of social science Rafiha University Advocate Rehana Ali UK others and  moderated by the KIIR Chairman Altaf Hussain Wani.

In his initial remarks the KIIR chief while referring to Modi government’s systematic clampdown on civil society, journalists, human rights defenders and political activists in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir said that the occupation authorities have been using so-called anti-terror laws as a weapon to silence the voices of dissent in the occupied territory.

He said that in addition to PSA, AFSPA and other draconian laws, the decades old anti-terror law UAPA was being used by India as a weapon of war to enforce complete silence in Kashmir. He said that slapping of be it a journalist, rights activist or even a common citizen, everyone was being slapped with UAPA.

The UAPA, he said, has been amended multiple times to make it more effective. Referring to the most recent amendment in the law, Wani said that besides empowering the government to declare any individual as a terrorist, the notorious law allows the National Investigation Agency (NIA) seizure of property under Section 25 and the powers of officers with the rank of inspectors and above to investigate cases under UAPA Section 43.

Citing the international covenants, Wani said, “The recent Amendment is contrary to the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and also violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1967, which recognizes the mentioned principle as a universal human right”.

The speakers said that Indian occupation authorities had also invoked Section 13 of UAPA against people who were accessing social media during the longest ever internet ban imposed by the government when it scrapped Article 370 of the Indian constitution to divide the state into two UTs.

In the aftermath of 5th August 2019, the panelists said that the law (UAPA) was badly misused in Kashmir to suppress the voices that have been critical to the Indian government’s muscular policy towards Kashmir.

They regrettably noted that dozens of rights activists including Khurram Pervaiz, Ahsan Untoo and others, who worked extensively to document human rights violations being committed by the Indian army in the region, were booked under the same law and put behind the bars.

Regarding the NIA Court’s ruling regarding the framing of charges against Hurriyat leaders under notorious UAPA, they said that the ruling was an extremely preposterous and pernicious one characterized by judicial partiality and integrity. They said that the Kashmiri prisoners who have been booked under the UAPA were not being given the right to fair trial and access to legal counsel.

While expressing their deep concerns over the continued detention of Kashmiri leaders the panelists said that India’s nefarious designs aimed at prolonging the detention of top rank Hurriyat leaders was a deliberate attempt to render the ongoing movement leaderless.

Regarding the pattern of arbitrary restrictions of Kashmiri journalists, they said that barring Kashmiri photojournalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo from travelling to Paris to receive her award despite holding a valid visa serves as an eye opener for world as how the government of India was violating the journalists’ right to mobility.

“On the other hand, the excessive use and misuse of the draconian laws by Indian authorities in occupied territory of Jammu and Kashmir has created an climate of fear and insecurity”, they said adding anyone who dares to raise his/her voice against Indian brutalities is silenced by being jailed under the UAPA and other black laws.

The UAPA continues to hang like a Sword of Damocles on the heads of Kashmiris especially journalists and human rights defenders who had played key role in exposing Indian systematic genocide in Kashmir.

During the years of turmoil in the region, they said that dozens of journalists have been killed by the Indian forces whereas a number of journalists including publishers and newspaper owners had to face arbitrary arrests and detentions under black laws such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

The arrest of senior journalists and raids on newspaper offices speak volumes about how the occupation authorities in IIOJK enjoy a free hand in intimidating and coercing the press to toe a particular line, they added.

Institutional censorship in the form of the Media Policy 2020, they said, has overwhelmingly incapacitated the media from giving objective coverage to the Kashmir issue and human rights violations taking place in the region. They said that the uncalled-for curbs on media such as surveillance, formal and informal investigations, harassment, restrictions on movement and mobility of journalists have hugely hampered objective journalism besides undermining the role of free media in Kashmir.

The panelists appealed to the global human rights organizations to take effective notice of the matter and play their role to ensure Kashmiris’ right to freedom of speech, their right to freedom of opinion, and press freedom in Kashmir.