Gross Violation of Fundamental Rights in Jammu and Kashmir: Amnesty

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Security personnel stand guard during a lockdown in Srinagar on Sept 28, 2019. — AFP

About 144 children as young as nine, have been taken into custody in Jammu and Kashmir after the restrictions were imposed

Abdul Bari Masoud | Caravan Daily

NEW DELHI — Amnesty International has expressed deep concern over the continued witch hunt of dissenting voices including children and women since August 5, 2019 in Jammu and Kashmir and demanded on Saturday immediate release of all political detainees held without charge or trial, and a complete end of blockade in the region.

Keeping a watch on the situation in the state particularly in the Kashmir valley, the Amnesty International India released an 11-page document to highlight the “gross violation” of people’s fundamental rights.

The report, titled as “Kashmir – Situation Update And Analysis: Let Kashmir Speak”, documented a clear pattern of the state government using arbitrary detention of activists, politicians and anyone likely to hold a dissenting opinion, including women and children before and after the government unilaterally abrogated Article 370 and Article 35A on August 5, 2019 amid strict restrictions in the state. Amnesty also urged the government of India to immediately stop this.

The Report quoted that “The Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) police recently accepted that about 144 children as young as nine, have been taken into custody.”

The Amnesty prepared the document after interviewing dozens of people in Jammu and Kashmir, including those detained in the context of the larger clampdown, their lawyers, medical professionals, local journalists and political leaders.

Post-paid mobile networks have been restored after 70 days in the valley but internet services still remain unavailable and thousands continue to be detained under a slew of administrative detention laws and provisions.

“Despite the claims of ‘normalcy’ in the region, the Government of India aims to extend the Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), 1978 after the bifurcation of the state on 31 October,” says the report.

Amnesty International India’s head and noted journalist Aakar Patel said the detentions under PSA over the last two months, including that of senior politicians and sitting members of parliament without charge or trial that too when important decisions are being taken and implemented about their constituencies, puts India in complete violation of its international obligations.

 According to report, arbitrary detentions are not limited to mainstream politicians as  Amnesty was able to obtain various copies of the habeas corpus petitions filed against detentions under the controversial PSA in J&K High Court between August 5, 2019 and October 16, 2019.

“Out of the 576 petitions filed in 2019, 326 were filed in this period, indicating a pattern of mass detention since the unilateral abrogation of Article 370. Out of these 326 cases, at least four cases of illegal detention of minors were recorded.”

Other persons interviewed by Amnesty International India included the family of 62-year old Manzoor Ahmad Kirman, a retired government employee of J&K Food and Supplies Department from Handwara, Kashmir who was associated with the JKPM.

His detention order, under PSA, was issued by the District Magistrate of Kupwara on August 30. 2019 on the ground that: “The subject joined political party of Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Movement headed by Shah Faesal, which has already declared its intentions to thwart the public order by raising slogans against the country and has shown unwanted dissent towards the Parliament’s decision.”

The order further goes on to state that Manzoor stands to create a “law and order problem” in the area.

Five young men who were arbitrarily taken into custody by the security forces during raids in Hirpora, a village located around 12 km from Shopian on Mughal Road, in separate incidents since August 5, told Amnesty that after the story of their torture was reported by media channel BBC in early September, security forces went back to their home and threatened their families of consequences in case they talk to anyone.

One of the villagers, on condition of anonymity, told Amnesty that for fear of being targeted by the army in case they talk to media or any nobody nobody will speak about the torture meted out to them.

A young man in his early twenties arrested from Diaroo village of district Shopian was reluctant to talk. His father, on a condition of anonymity, recalled, “A week ago the army had come to our village and took away the cell phone of my son. He was asked to come to their camp next day and to collect it from there. The army camp is around five km from our village and is located at Haal village. Next morning he left home as usual in the morning but did not return for lunch. We became a bit concerned. Around 3 pm he returned home with bruises and injuries on his body. He told us that he was mercilessly beaten within the army camp. We took him to a nearby hospital for medical treatment. He is still on medication.”

Other arrested persons interviewed by Amnesty International India showed injuries and bruises on their bodies. Yawar Wazir who was picked up during an army raid from his village told: “I was taken to a neighbour’s house and tortured there. I was beaten and given electric shocks.”

Yawar refused to talk further out of fear of reprisals. He said, “The forces have sources everywhere who inform them about outsiders coming to villages and whom they meet. Eye is kept on every individual. So I don’t want to invite any trouble”.

According to Amnesty report, in most of the cases, lawyers and family members of the detainees are not informed of the grounds of arrests and the whereabouts of their clients and relatives.

Non-sharing of critical information with the detainees’ family members and lawyer constitutes a serious violation of the detainees’ right to a fair trial, the report said.

In the wake of the Block Development Council elections slated to be held on October 24 in Jammu Kashmir, few political detainees were released by the authorities on the condition that they must not indulge in any political activities and speeches.

Amnesty underlined that political speech cannot be prohibited under international law unless it constitutes a direct threat to public order, which has not been adequately demonstrated by the Government of India. These conditions also place unwarranted restrictions on political leaders, especially when most of them have been advocating for peace in the region.

For instance, the words of Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister of state before he was placed on house arrest were of request for the public to maintain calm and not to take the law into their own hands.

Amnesty International India also documented the adverse effects of the communication blockade on the access to health care and freedom of the press in the state. It also recorded a clear pattern of authorities using excessive force and intimidation.

Some people reported that security forces ransacked their homes, intentionally damaging their properties and threatening families of adverse consequences, in case of reprisal against them.

Aakar Patel underscored that “the cases documented by Amnesty International India clearly show the government’s witch-hunt to curb dissenting voices in Kashmir, including those of duly elected leaders which is against the representative and participative thread of India.”

An atmosphere of fear and reprisal has ensured silence from many quarters in the region and this has been compounded through arbitrary detentions often without any kind of documentation, access to lawyers and recourse to justice.

Amnesty report says “the reality on the ground in Kashmir is very different from the narrative of ‘normalcy’ set forth by both the governments central as well as state, and national news in India.”

In several interviews with local journalists, editors and publishers conducted by Amnesty International India, it was repeatedly expressed that they felt threatened, intimidated or coerced into silence leading to the stark absence of voices from Kashmir.

Zuhaib Maqbool Humza, a freelance photojournalist who has been covering the Kashmir conflict since the last six years stated:

“If we look back at the media coverage of the last mass unrest in Kashmir in 2016, the local newspapers brilliantly reported on the protests, the casualties, quoted hospital authorities and other administrative authorities. But since August 5, 2019, you haven’t seen that anymore. Right now, local Kashmir newspapers’ content is limited to how banana shake is helpful for your health.”

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