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UN report notes 'suppression' of Kashmiri independence groups in Pakistan

Pro-independence protest in Kotli, Pak-occupied Kashmir
By Our Representative
A top United Nations (UN) body has suggested that the intense fervour of Kashmiri nationalism isn’t just sweeping the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) state but is equally strong in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), pointing towards how the Pak authorities have been seeking to suppress it by placing restrictions on rights to freedoms of expression and opinion, assembly and association on every section of PoK’s population.
In its report “Update of the Situation of Human Rights in Indian-Administered Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir from May 2018 to April 2019”, released on July 8, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) indicates, this is being done directly under the nose of the Pakistani Prime Minister, who is “vested with wide-ranging powers, including the authority to appoint and dismiss judges of the superior courts and to appoint the Chief Election Commissioner” in PoK.
The report objects to a PoK document which states, “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.” Yet another document, it says, disqualifies anyone running for elected office who does not sign a declaration that says, “I solemnly declare that I believe in the Ideology of Pakistan, the Ideology of State’s Accession to Pakistan and the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan.”
The report underlines, in PoK, “Members of nationalist and pro-independence political parties ... regularly face threats, intimidation and even arrests for their political activities from local authorities or intelligence agencies... Often threats are also directed at their family members, including children. Such intense pressure has reportedly forced many to either flee Pakistan and continue their political activities in exile or stop them completely.”
Citing examples of the curbs on freedom of expression, the report says, “In November 2018, 19 activists of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front were charged with ‘treason’ for organising a rally in Kotli area” of PoK. “Protesters raised slogans that called on India and Pakistan to demilitarize and leave Kashmir”, it adds.
Then, on March 15, 2019, “30 members of the Jammu Kashmir National Students Federation were arbitrarily detained by Pakistani law enforcement agencies while protesting at the Rawalpindi Press Club in Rawalpindi” because they were “reportedly demanding Kashmiri independence from Pakistan.” 
Giving instances of “threats and harassment” against journalists PoK, the report notes how an anti-terrorism court in Gilgit-Baltistan region “sentenced journalist Shabbir Siham in absentia to 22 years in prison and fined him 500,000 Pakistani Rupees (USD 4,300) on charges of defamation, criminal intimidation, committing acts of terrorism, and absconding from court proceedings.”
Shabbir Siham was accused of “fabrication and extorting a regional minister in violation of Pakistan's Anti-Terrorism Act, after he wrote an article for the ‘Daily Times’ newspaper accusing legislators from Gilgit-Baltistan of involvement in human trafficking and prostitution”, the report adds.
Then, “on November 21, 2018, Gilgit-Baltistan authorities arrested journalist Muhammad Qasim Qasimi after he engaged in a verbal argument with a local police official. The newspaper that he worked for reported that he may have been arrested to prevent the publication of his story on a corruption scandal in the local government”, the report says.
He was charged with “criminal intimidation, intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace, defamation, threat of injury to public servant, and obstructing a public servant in discharge of public functions.”
Things have gone so far that even the criticism of the controversial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects is dubbed as “anti-national”. The report quotes the International Crisis Group (ICG) to point towards how Pakistani intelligence officials have been warning journalists in Gilgit-Baltistan against criticising CPEC, seen by the authorities as “a major infrastructure development boost for the region.”
“According to ICG, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are resentful because they feel CPEC projects were ‘designed and implemented without their input’ and ‘will be of little benefit to them’. Environmental activists and local communities have also raised concerns about the ecological impact of large-scale infrastructure projects”, the report says.
The report underlines, “Locals believe most CPEC jobs would go to outsiders from Pakistani provinces and they fear this ‘could also affect Gilgit-Baltistan’s delicate Sunni-Shia demographic balance.’ ICG concludes, ‘the state’s response to local dissent and alienation has been an overbearing security presence, marked by army checkpoints, intimidation and harassment of local residents, and crackdowns on anti-CPEC protest’.”
According to the report, a key concern in PoK, including Galgit-Baltistan, is that “the local communities do not control natural resources of the territories as these are controlled by Pakistani federal agencies. Political leaders and activists feel their natural resources are exploited for the benefit of Pakistan while the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan continue to remain largely impoverished.”
The top UN body believes, “The fashion in which the CPEC projects are being implemented raises issues in relation to the enjoyment of rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Pakistan is State party.”
The report asserts, “Authorities in Gilgit-Baltistan continue to use the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 (ATA) to target political activists, human rights defenders and student protesters”, adding, “Authorities in Gilgit-Baltistan frequently clamp down on any anti-CPEC dissent with the ATA and the 2016 cybercrimes law. Anyone who protests or criticises CPEC is termed as ‘anti-national and anti-people’. Moreover, authorities often accuse critics of being Indian spies in order to delegitimize their concerns and protests.”
Meanwhile, OHCHR says, it has “credible information” of enforced disappearances of people from PoK, “including those who were held in secret detention and those whose fate and whereabouts continue to remain unknown. The people subjected to enforced or involuntary disappearances included men working with Pakistani security forces.”
“In almost all cases brought to OHCHR’s attention, victim groups allege that Pakistani intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearances. There are fears that people subjected to enforced disappearances may have been detained in any of the military-run internment centers in Pakistan”, it adds.

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