WASHINGTON: An official US report suggests that India engages in “transnational repression against individuals in another country”, seemingly referring to alleged assassinations and assassination attempts carried out by Indian agents in Canada, Pakistan and the United States.

The 2023 Human Rights Report from the US State Department, released this week, also accuses Pakistan of similar actions. It alleges that the Pakistani government intimidates or seeks reprisal against individuals beyond its borders, including civil society activists, human rights defenders, and journalists, as does India.

The report accuses both governments of committing significant human rights violations, including arbitrary and extrajudicial

killings, torture, inhuman treatment, life-threatening prison conditions, as well as arbitrary arrests and political detentions. Addi­tionally, it states, “a lack of accountability contributes to widespread impunity.”

Report claims Pakistani governments ‘tacitly approved enforced disappearances’

According to the report, the Indian government faced accusations in 2023 from other governments, diaspora communities, and human rights groups of being involved in the killing of individuals or using violence or threats of violence against individuals in other countries as reprisal.

Specifically on Sept 18, 2023, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his government was investigating allegations of a connection between Indian government agents and the killing of a Sikh Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Nijjar had been designated a terrorist by the Indian government due to his advocacy for the creation of an independent Sikh state called Khalistan. The Indian government denied any involvement.

Threats and coercion

Civil society organisations, members of diaspora populations, and journalists advocating for human rights outside the country reported experiencing threats, harassment, arbitrary surveillance, and coercion, including online. They attribute these actions to the government or individuals alleged to be connected to the government.

They recounted instances where their families, friends, or associates in India encountered harassment and pressure from local authorities because of their human rights activities. These occurrences instilled a “chilling effect” on their advocacy endeavours, leading to self-censorship out of concern for reprisals against themselves and their families in India.

The report on Pakistan highlighted last year allegations from activists accusing the government of carrying out politically motivated killings and kidnappings in other countries.

Journalists and civil society members in exile across Europe and elsewhere reportedly faced targeting, harassment, and torture by government agents. In August, the mutilated bodies of exiled Baloch activist Hani Baloch and her husband Sameer Baloch were discovered in a town in Iran.

Disappearances

However, the report primarily emphasised disappearances, noting instances in 2023 where kidnappings and enforced disappearances occurred nationwide. Some officials from intelligence agencies, police, and security forces reportedly held prisoners incommunicado and withheld information about their whereabouts.

The report alleged that successive Pakistani governments tacitly approved enforced disappearances. Citing figures released in August by the government’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disapp­earances, it stated that out of the 9,967 missing-person cases reported to the commission since 2011, 7,714 were resolved, while 2,253 remained pending.

Regarding fair trials, the report noted military trials of civilians accused of rioting on May 9, which occurred following the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan.

There was no official reaction to the report from Pakistan’s Foreign Office until going to press.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2024

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