SRINAGAR – Amnesty International India has documented a clear pattern of authorities using arbitrary detention on activists, politicians and anyone likely to hold a dissenting opinion, including women and children before and after 5 August 2019 in Jammu & Kashmir, said the statement.
In a statement, they said after interviewing dozens of people in Jammu & Kashmir, including those detained in the context of the larger clampdown, their lawyers, medical professionals, local journalists and political leaders, Amnesty International India demands the immediate release of all political detainees held without charge or trial and a complete lifting of the communication blockade in the region.
“Post-paid mobile networks have been restored after 70 days. 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. The detentions under this legislation 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. Hence, we ask – what is the criteria used by Government of India for this extension,” said Aakar Patel, head of Amnesty International India.
Partially restored communications have not returned the situation to normalcy. Public transport continues to be off the roads, impeding access. Earlier this week, several women silently protesting with placards in Srinagar were arrested which included former Chief Minister of J&K, Farooq Abdullah’s sister Suraiya Abdullah and his daughter Safia Abdullah Khan. News reports indicate most of the detained politicians are held under Section 107 of the J&K Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). The J&K CrPC, however, will be repealed after 31st October and replaced by the central legislation indicating a limbo-like situation for those detained under this provision.
“Right after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, Prime Minister Modi in his address to the country had said, ‘More than 1.5 crore people of Jammu & Kashmir were deprived of the benefits of laws that were enacted for the benefit of the people of India.’ Then, why are the people of Jammu & Kashmir deprived of their right to liberty and security and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention – a right enjoyed by all citizens of India?” added Aakar Patel.
“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. It effectively prevents them from seeking an independent judicial review of the lawfulness of their detention,” it added.
The statement said that in wake of the Block Development Council elections slated to be held on 24 October 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.
“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,” it said.
“These conditions also place unwarranted restrictions on political leaders, especially when most of them have been advocating for peace in the region,” it added.
“For instance, the last words of Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister of J&K 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. Moreover, the blanket nature of this condition does not fulfil the conditions of legality and proportionality as required under international law. Instead, it stifles public debate and hampers political discourse,” said the statement.
The statement said that Amnesty International India also documented the adverse effects of the communication blockade on access to health care and freedom of the press in Jammu & Kashmir. It also recorded a clear pattern of authorities using excessive force and intimidation. Almost every detained person interviewed described being beaten and threatened. Several of these cases amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, absolutely prohibited under international law. In some instances, people reported security forces ransacking their homes, intentionally damaging public and private properties and threatening families of adverse consequences, in case of reprisal against them.
“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. This has been compounded through arbitrary detentions often without any kind of documentation, access to lawyers and recourse to justice. This severely affect the human rights guarantees of the people of Kashmir and impedes India and the world’s right to know,” said Aakar Patel in the statement.