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IIOJK in focus

Indian repression persists 3 years after repeal of special status of IIOJK: HRW

New York, August 02 (KMS): The New York-based right watchdog, Human Rights Watch has said that Indian authorities are restricting free expression, peaceful assembly, and other basic rights in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir three years after revoking the special status of the territory.

The HRW in a statement released, today, on its website said the Indian government’s repressive policies and failure to investigate the human rights abuses and prosecute the involved forces’ personnel have increased insecurity among the Kashmiris.

The statement said, on August 5, 2019, the Indian government revoked the special status of IIOJK and split it into two federally governed territories. It said, the Indian government’s action was accompanied by serious rights violations including arbitrary detention of hundreds of people, a total communications blackout, and severe restrictions on freedom of movement and peaceful assembly. It said the authorities have intensified their crackdown on media and civil society groups, including through frequent use of draconian laws.

Three years after the government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, the Indian authorities appear to be more concerned with projecting an image of normalcy than ensuring rights and accountability, said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The HRW said the Indian authorities have invoked the draconian law, Public Safety Act, as well as terrorism allegations, to conduct raids and arbitrarily detain journalists, activists, and political leaders without evidence and meaningful judicial review. The authorities have also barred several prominent Kashmiris from traveling abroad without providing reasons, it added.

The statement maintained that in November 2021, the authorities arrested a prominent Kashmiri human rights activist, Khurram Parvez, on politically motivated charges under the abusive counterterrorism law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). “Parvez, 44, is the Program Coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society and the chair of the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances. He has documented cases of enforced disappearances and investigated unmarked graves in Kashmir, and as a result, the Indian authorities have repeatedly targeted him for his human rights work,” it said.

The HRW said, United Nations human rights experts, calling for his immediate release, expressed “regret that the Government continues to use the UAPA as a means of coercion to restrict civil society’s, the media’s and human rights defenders’ fundamental freedoms.”

Journalists in IIOJK face increasing harassment by Indian forces, including raids and arbitrary arrests on terrorism charges, it said. “Authorities in India have shut down the internet more often than anywhere else in the world. A majority of those shutdowns have been in Kashmir, where they are used to curb protests and access to information,” it pointed out.

The statement said, since August 2019, at least 35 journalists in Kashmir have faced police interrogation, raids, threats, physical assault, restrictions on freedom of movement, or fabricated criminal cases for their reporting. In June 2020, the government announced a new media policy that made it easier for the authorities to censor news in the region. In 2022, the authorities rearrested Fahad Shah, Aasif Sultan, and Sajjad Gul under the Public Safety Act after they had been granted bail separately in other cases filed against them in retaliation for their journalism work.

It said, since 2019, the Indian forces have been involved in numerous abuses including routine harassment and ill-treatment at checkpoints, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killings. In March 2021, five UN expert mandates wrote to the Indian government seeking information about the detention of a Kashmiri politician, Waheed Para; the alleged killing in custody of a shopkeeper, Irfan Ahmad Dar; and the enforced disappearance of Naseer Ahmad Wani, a resident of Shopian district. 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 Indian security agents.

The HRW said there has been no accountability for these recent extrajudicial killings or past killings and abuses by Indian forces’ personnel, in part because of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act), which gives members of the armed forces effective immunity from prosecution. Since the law came into force in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990, the Indian government has not granted permission to prosecute any of the security forces’ personnel in civilian courts. Rights groups have long documented that the law has become a tool of state abuse, oppression, and discrimination, and called for its repeal. Affected residents, activists, government-appointed committees, politicians, and UN human rights bodies have also criticized the law.

The HRW said, instead of addressing human rights concerns, Indian officials have sought to project the appearance of progress.

Indian forces’ raids and targeted attacks by unidentified gunmen in Kashmir are grim reminders of the unending cycle of violence linked to repressive Indian government policies and the failure to bring abusive forces to account, Ganguly said. The Indian authorities should ensure justice for forces’ abuses and end policies that violate the fundamental rights of Kashmiri people, she added.

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