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J&K freedom score down by huge 21 points in a year, 'equals' Pak-occupied Kashmir

A panchayat member walks to cast vote in J&K's boycotted local body polls in Oct 2019 
By Rajiv Shah
In strong message to India’s powers-that-be, a new report by Freedom House, a high profile US organization, has rated the status of democracy in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) as equal to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Giving both J&K and PoK the same score, 28 on a scale of 100, and categorizing both as “Not Free”, the report rates 210 countries, including individual territories, in order to rate two sub-categories, political rights and civil liberties.
Virtually setting aside India’s stance on J&K, the report by the 79-year-old organization based in Washington DC finds that while the PoK’s category as “Not Free” has not changed in the last year, remaining static at 28/100, as for J&K, its category has changed from “Partly Free” to “Not Free”, and rating dropped by a whopping 21 points, from 49/100 to 28/100.
As for the two sub-categories, J&K is found to be doing one point worse in political rights than PoK (8/40 vs 9/40), while in civil liberties, J&K is rated 20/60, one notch better than PoK (19/60).
Notably, both J&K and PoK perform worse than not just India, which scores 71/100, four down from the previous report, and categorized as “Free”, but also "Partly Free" neighbours -- Pakistan 38/100, Bangladesh 39/100, Sri Lanka 56/100 and Nepal 56/100, as also “Not Free” Myanmar (20/100), though better than the other “non-free” neighbour, China 11/30.
The report, “Freedom in the World 2020”, states, “Indian Kashmir’s status declined from Partly Free to Not Free due to the Indian government’s abrupt revocation of the region’s autonomy, the postponement or elimination of legislative elections, and a security crackdown that sharply curtailed civil liberties and included mass arrests of local politicians and activists.”
It continues, civil liberties in J&K were “also curtailed to quell public opposition to the reorganization”, adding, “Indian security forces are frequently accused of human rights violations, but few are punished”, and despite claimed actions against them, “separatist and jihadist militants continue to wage a protracted insurgency.”
Journalists protest Internet shutdown in J&K
Pointing out that“at least 276 civilians, security personnel and militants were killed in 2019”, the report says, while “separatist militants and a heavy Indian security presence have long impaired the ability of people to participate freely in political processes”, things got worse post-August 2019, when tens of thousands of additional troops were deployed to quash opposition to reorganisation of J&K.
 J&K is found to be doing one point worse in political rights than PoK (8/40 vs 9/40), while in civil liberties, J&K is rated 20/60, one notch better than PoK
It adds, “The postponement of state elections through mid-2019, the reorganization of the region in August, and the related mass detentions effectively reduced the ability of opposition groups to compete and enter government in J&K for the foreseeable future.” 
The result of the reorganisation of J&K is, says the report,“Many laws that had been passed by the state government were subject to repeal or amendment under the new system, and more laws passed by the Indian Parliament now apply to J&K.” It predicts, “In the future, the union territory will not be permitted to formulate its own laws regarding policing and public order.”
Stating that the new administration “generally operates with opacity”, and the changes in the administrative status of the region have been “coupled with severe restrictions on press freedom”, accompanied by “a severe clampdown on the activities of local and foreign journalists”, the report says, “The authorities imposed lengthy shutdowns of internet and telephone service.”
It further says “Freedom of assembly is frequently restricted during times of unrest. The authorities often reject requests for permits for public gatherings submitted by the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). Separatist leaders are frequently arrested prior to planned demonstrations, and violent clashes between protesters and security forces are not uncommon.”
As for “local and national civil rights groups”, the report says, they are “generally permitted to operate”, but are “sometimes harassed by security forces.” Thus, “The separatist APHC is technically allowed to function, but its leaders are frequently subjected to short-term detention.” As for workers, they “have the right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining under Indian law”, but ”union rights are inconsistently upheld in practice.”
Then, the report says, “Courts are politicized and act as an extension of Indian executive and military authority. The government and security forces frequently disregard court orders”, adding, “Broadly written legislation, such as the unpopular Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Disturbed Areas Act, allow security forces to search homes and arrest suspects without a warrant, shoot suspects on sight, and destroy buildings believed to house militants or arms.”
The report underlines, “Indian security personnel have continued to engage in torture, forced disappearances, and custodial killings of suspected militants and their alleged civilian sympathizers, and they generally enjoy impunity for such abuses”, condemning “excessive and extrajudicial violence committed by Indian security forces.”
Then, it says, “Freedom of movement has been curtailed by both local and central authorities”, with strict curfews “imposed throughout Kashmir in 2019 surrounding the removal of the state’s autonomous status in August.” It adds, “Even when curfews are not in force, internal movement is disrupted by roadblocks, checkpoints, and periodic protest-related impediments.”

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