India: The Government must end the repression of rights in Jammu and Kashmir
The Indian government has drastically intensified the repression of rights in Jammu & Kashmir in the three years since the change in status of the region, Amnesty International said in a new briefing released today.
The new briefing, “We are being punished by the law”: Three years since of abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir, documents how civil society at large and journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders in particular have faced relentless interrogations, arbitrary travel bans, revolving door detentions and repressive media policies while blocking access to appeals or justice in courts and human rights bodies.
“For three years now, civil society and media in Jammu and Kashmir have been subjected to a vicious crackdown by the Indian government, which is determined to stifle dissent using draconian laws, policies and unlawful practices in their arsenal,” said Aakar Patel, chair of the board of Amnesty International India.
“By harassing and intimidating critical voices, authorities are targeting all credible, independent sources of information in and about Jammu and Kashmir. There is a silence achieved on all dissent through heavy handed repression which has spread fear and uncertainty in the region.”
For three years now, civil society and media in Jammu and Kashmir have been subjected to a vicious crackdown by the Indian government which is determined to stifle dissent.Aakar Patel, chair of the board of Amnesty International India
Assault on Freedom of Expression and Movement
Amnesty International has recorded at least 60 instances of crackdown on journalists and human rights defenders since August 2019.
A Kashmiri journalist who has been harassed by the authorities told Amnesty International, “They (security forces) tell you in so many ways – subtle as well as brazen – that the cost of pursuing journalism in Jammu & Kashmir is huge.”
The Indian government has total control on information coming of out of the region after passing restrictive media policies such as the 2020 Revised Media Policy and 2021 Film Policy. After an initial 18-months internet shutdown, the Indian authorities still often suspend internet services in various parts of Kashmir often without any prior notice. In addition, the sudden forced closure of the Kashmir Press Club in 2022 by the Indian government was a big blow to the already disintegrating media pool.
Amnesty International also found that in the last three years, at least six individuals including journalists, human rights activists and academics were stopped from travelling abroad (despite having requisite travel documents) in violation of their right to freedom of movement through arbitrary executive actions not backed by any court order or warrant or even a written explanation.
Abuse of security laws and agencies
According to the data gathered by Amnesty International, at least 27 journalists have been arrested and detained by the Indian authorities since 5 August 2019.
Several journalists including Fahad Shah, Aasif Sultan and Sajad Gul have been subjected to ‘revolving door’ arrests. In a continuing pattern, they have been arrested under one law, granted bail by the court, and then re-arrested almost immediately under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) – India’s primary anti-terror law in Jammu & Kashmir, keeping them perpetually detained.
A lawyer who handles such cases in southern Kashmir told Amnesty International, “Since 2016, the increased malicious use of anti-terror laws makes it difficult for people to secure bail. [It] provides more flexibility to the police in keeping the person in pre-trial detention for 180 days even though the… chargesheets filed by the police [reads] nothing less than a fiction book or novel.”
Amnesty International reviewed 1346 cases available on the website of the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir. It found that by 1 August 2022, the number of habeas corpus petitions have increased by 32%, indicating an increase in unlawful detention in the last three years. Amnesty International also reviewed the data published by National Crime Record Bureau and found that there has been a 12% increase in the use of UAPA in Jammu & Kashmir since 2019. This emerging trend of using the draconian UAPA in addition to the much-abused Public Safety Act (PSA) is also evidenced by an analysis of information on the High Court’s website.
Other intimidation tactics include malicious investigations and raids by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), and the Enforcement Directorate.
A senior editor of a prominent daily newspaper told Amnesty International, “When the NIA raids a journalist’s house or the Enforcement Directorate threatens an editor with false cases, it does not only impact that journalist or editor but the entire community. They fear they can be next. It has become impossible for journalists to continue their work independently.”
In 2020, the NIA conducted multiple raids on the residences and offices of well-known human rights defenders like Khurram Parvez, three of his associates and Parveena Ahanger. Raids have also been carried out on the offices of the newspaper Kashmir Times, NGOs Athrout and GK Trust and on the residence of Agence France-Presse’s Kashmir correspondent Parvez Bukhari.
Amnesty International spoke with Khurram Parvez’s wife, Sameena after his subsequent arrest. She recounted, “The NIA officials seized the (personal) phones of everyone (in the joint family) including our domestic help along with office laptops. In total, there were 21 devices… they kept asking about some of the names in his (old) diary and on a bunch of visiting cards. How can that be used to charge Khurram under India’s anti-terror law and accuse him of waging a war against the country?”
Raids without a legal basis constitute a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The people of Jammu & Kashmir, in particular the Hindu minority community have faced unlawful killings by armed groups which have recently increased. An analysis of the official data by the Government of India shows that unlawful killings of civilians by armed groups have increased by 20% in the past three years.
Additionally, the government recently revealed that Jammu & Kashmir accounted for the highest number of deaths involving the police (police encounters) in India between April 2020 and March 2022. There is a lack of accountability for use of force in the region by the police due to the continued enforcement of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) which grants them additional powers and impunity and falls short of international human rights standards.
The government has a duty under international law to take measures to protect civilians and to bring to justice those who order, plan and carry out such attacks or killings in a fair trial without resorting to the death penalty.
The Indian authorities must end the long-drawn repression in Jammu and Kashmir immediately.Aakar Patel
Amnesty International calls on the Indian government to immediately release those arbitrarily detained under administrative detention and other repressive laws and ensure that they are tried promptly and fairly in a regular court.
Amnesty International also calls on the international community to hold the Government of India accountable for its grave human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir and ensure its cooperation with United Nations Mechanisms and facilitate immediate and independent investigation in the region.
“The government’s use of unlawful measures and unjust barriers impeding various rights in the region must be removed without further delay. The Indian authorities must end the long-drawn repression in Jammu and Kashmir immediately,” said Aakar Patel.