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US rights groups claim 'continued violation' of basic freedoms in J&K since August 2019

By Our Representative 

Top US-based non-profit, Human Rights Watch (HRW), headquartered in New York, and the Washington DC-based Indian diaspora group, Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), recalling the abrogation of Article 370 three years ago, have taken strong exception to "continued restrictions" on free expression, peaceful assembly, and other basic rights in Jammu and Kashmir.
Claiming that after revoking the region’s special autonomous status on August 5, 2019, the government’s “repressive policies and failure to investigate and prosecute alleged security force abuses have increased insecurity among Kashmiris”, in a statement, HRW said, “The government action was accompanied by serious rights violations including arbitrary detention of hundreds of people, a total communications blackout, and severe restrictions on freedom of movement and peaceful assembly.”
It added, “Since then, the authorities have released many of the detainees and restored the internet, but have intensified their crackdown on media and civil society groups, including through frequent use of counterterrorism and public safety laws.”
HRW said, “The authorities have invoked the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, as well as terrorism allegations, to conduct raids and arbitrarily detain journalists, activists, and political leaders without evidence and meaningful judicial review. The authorities have also barred several prominent Kashmiris from traveling abroad without providing reasons. Since August 2019, militants have killed at least 118 civilians, including 21 people from minority Hindu and Sikh communities.”
Especially referring to the arrested prominent Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Parvez in November 2021, HRW said, the charges against him were “politically motivated” under the “abusive counterterrorism law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).”
It added, “Parvez, 44, is the programme coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society and the chair of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. He has documented cases of enforced disappearances and investigated unmarked graves in Kashmir, and as a result, the Indian authorities have repeatedly targeted him for his human rights work.”
Pointing towards attack on media, HRW said, “Journalists in Kashmir face increasing harassment by security forces, including raids and arbitrary arrests on terrorism charges. Authorities in India have shut down the internet more often than anywhere else in the world. A majority of those shutdowns have been in Kashmir, where they are used to curb protests and access to information.”
It noted, “Since August 2019, at least 35 journalists in Kashmir have faced police interrogation, raids, threats, physical assault, restrictions on freedom of movement, or fabricated criminal cases for their reporting. In June 2020, the government announced a new media policy that made it easier for the authorities to censor news in the region.”
This year, HRW said, the authorities rearrested journalists Fahad Shah, Aasif Sultan, and Sajad Gul “under the Public Safety Act after they had been granted bail separately in other cases filed against them in retaliation for their journalism work.”
It further said, “Since 2019, the security forces have been implicated in numerous abuses including routine harassment and ill-treatment at checkpoints, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killings.”
Thus, in March 2021, five UN expert mandates wrote to the Indian government seeking information about the detention of a Kashmiri politician, Waheed Para; the alleged killing in custody of a shopkeeper, Irfan Ahmad Dar; and the enforced disappearance of Naseer Ahmad Wani, a resident of Shopian district.”
The experts, it added, raised concerns about “the repressive measures and broader pattern of systematic infringements of fundamental rights used against the local population, as well as of intimidations, searches, and confiscations committed by national security agents.”
HRW claimed, there has been “no accountability for extrajudicial killings or past killings and abuses by security forces, in part because of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which gives members of the armed forces effective immunity from prosecution.”
Noting the abuse of Kashmiri Pandits’ human rights, HRW said, not only did “hundreds of thousands” of them were displaced from the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley “after a spate of attacks by militant groups in 1989-90” with the government failing “to provide for their safe return”, regretting, while the government claims that it has provided government jobs for 5,502 Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir Valley, “no Kashmiri Pandit has migrated from this region since 2019”.
Supreme Court in 2018 ruled that Article 370 had acquired the status of being a permanent part of India’s Constitution
In a separate statement, the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s "Hindu supremacist government” for revoking Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that gave the region its autonomous status, said, ever since “an already bad situation” has turned “worse”.
“Extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, prolonged detention, torture, internet bans, severe restrictions on freedom of movement and peaceful assembly, and other forms of persecution of Kashmir’s eight million Muslims have escalated over the last three years. The fears of the global civil rights community have come true,” IAMC quoted its president Syed Ali as saying.
“The government has tried to whitewash its terrible record of governance in Kashmir by painting a false and rosy picture”, IAMC said, adding, “Kashmiri citizens have suffered unprecedented persecution due to the increased militaristic response to suppress their democratic aspirations since August 2019.”
Stating that “scores of political rights activists and even politicians such as former chief ministers were jailed or put under house arrest. Every voice of dissent is gagged”, it criticized the Supreme Court for “failing to take up the many petitions before it that have challenged the rescinding of its autonomy.”
“The Supreme Court itself had in 2018 ruled that Article 370 had acquired the status of being a permanent part of India’s Constitution and that it cannot be abrogated,” Ali said. “And yet, ever since Modi summarily revoked it just a year later, the Supreme Court has failed to take up challenges to that decision even though it violates the court’s clearcut ruling”, he added.
Ali insisted, the Government of India should immediately free Kashmiri journalists and activists including Fahad Shah, Aasif Sultan, Sajad Gul, and human rights defender Khurram Parvez, arrested in November last year “on false charges of terrorism, as well as hundreds of others who have not even been charged with any crime.”

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