ISLAMABAD: Amnesty Inter­na­­tional has called on the Indian government to end the repression of rights in India-held Kashmir (IHK), release those arbitrarily de­tained and ensure they are tried promptly and fairly in a regular court.

The AI urged the international community to hold India accountable for human rights violations.

The AI in its report, titled “We are being punished by the law: Three years since abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir”, stated that the Indian government’s efforts to put in place unlawful surveillance measures, arbitrary detention, and restrictions to freedom of expression and simultaneously conceal its actions in occupied Jammu and Kashmir clearly violated international human rights law.

The Indian government was further asked to drop all politically motivated charges against journalists and human rights defenders, arrested for exercising their freedom of expression, and remove the unjust barriers placed on the people of occupied Jammu and Kashmir from expressing themselves freely and provide them access to meaningful remedy and justice. It must also take steps to increase representation and participation of the people of occupied Jammu and Kashmir in decision-making processes, stated the report that was released on Friday.

Urges world to hold Modi government accountable for human rights violations

Also, the international community was urged to hold the Indian government accountable for the human rights violations in occupied Jammu and Kashmir by calling for an immediate and independent investigation into such violations, not the least because it reflects so poorly that a member of the UN Human Rights Council is acting with such impunity.

“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,” he said.

The report mentioned that the Indian government’s claims about ‘legitimate response to terrorism’ could not be considered a proportionate response to the purported threat of terrorism and so constituted human rights violations. It described the measures of relentless interrogations, arbitrary tra­vel bans, administrative detention and repressive media policies and blocking access to human rights commission, preventing journalists and human rights defenders in occupied Jammu and Kashmir from communicating freely about the situation and denying them meaningful access to the region, as infringing on people’s rights to access to information.

The rights body monitored the human rights situation in occupied J&K for several years and found that the Indian government’s clampdown on dissent in the disputed territory had intensified since August 5, 2019.

This intensification has had the impact of establishing increased control over the disputed region through a system of laws, policies and practices that systematically annihilate critical voices and violate the rights to freedom of expression and opinion of journalists and human rights defenders, the report stated.

Amnesty International spoke to representatives of civil society in occupied Jammu & Kashmir including journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders and a former judge. Amnesty International found unreasonable restrictions placed on freedom of movement and the right to political participation, as well as undue limitations on freedom of expression along with arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the people. Human rights defenders and journalists are at a higher risk of these violations in Jammu and Kashmir.

The passing of repressive policies such as the ‘2020 Revised Media Policy and 2021 Film Policy’ have been used as attempts to legitimise the censorship of expression and ensured a total control of information coming out of the region by the Indian government, it said.

Multiple news media outlets and human rights organisations consistently face raids and investigations from the National Investigation Agency and the Income Tax Department over politically motivated charges of financial irregularities.

The harassment and intimidation have led to many journalists either losing or leaving their jobs. In addition, the sudden and forced closure of Kashmir Press Club in 2022 by the Indian government further silenced the culture of debate and solidarity amongst the journalists.

The report documented how since August 5, 2019, the Indian authorities had increased the use of travel bans, which are arbitrary executive actions not backed by any court order, warrant or even a written explanation, on journalists and human rights defenders violating their right to freedom of movement. At least six individuals including journalists, human rights activists and academics were stopped from travelling abroad without any reason, it said.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2022

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