By Zukhruf Amin
The Amnesty International released a new report titled “‘We are being punished by the law’: Three years of abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir”. The document has revealed how the civil society including journalists, lawyers, and human rights activists continue to face relentless policies based on interrogations, arbitrary restrictions, and repressive media policies, which clamps down on people’s right to information and freedom of expression. It highlights that the Indian government’s repressive policies in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) – three years since the scrapping of Article 370 in 2019 – has intensified, making the Kashmir issue a serious matter of abuse to humanity. Since then, the disputed region has been subjected to war crimes by the Indian forces. The draconian laws and lack of accountability for use of force or killings by the police due to the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA), grants them immunity and additional powers which leaves the human rights standards in doldrums.
In the three years since 2019, to suppress dissent, the Indian government has restricted the right to freedom of expression and opinion of the people of IIOJK. The record of human rights in the region is alarming. Amnesty International pointed out that a day before scrapping Article 370, a communication blackout including suspension of telephone and internet services, arbitrary detentions, and restrictions on movement was enforced. According to Access Now, the internet shutdown turned to be the longest ever imposed in a democracy. It significantly impeded people’s right to information and the media to report on human rights violations in the region. Amnesty International highlighted that since the revocation of IIOJK’s special status, there have been 60 incidents of human rights abuses where human rights defenders and journalists were illegally detained, tortured and unlawfully interrogated. In addition, between 5th August, 2019 and 5th August 2022, at least six people including journalists, academicians and human rights activists were barred from travelling abroad. Moreover, Amnesty International also found that there has been an increase of 12% in the use of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in IIOJK since 2019, which provides immunity to the authorities for detaining any person for a period of 180 days without any charge sheet.
An unabated wave of suppression is unleashed by the Hindutva driven BJP government where the Kashmiris are routinely questioned for their work, their social media accounts being monitored, and resultantly they are threatened with detention. The intimidation is meant to censor the criticism on the government – an infringement on Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The crackdown on media also comes in tandem with increased surveillance in the region. The Indian security forces have used draconian counterterrorism and brutal sedition laws to stifle dissent. The Sedition Law is enforced in the region which the Indian government misuses for political purposes against its critics. Amnesty International’s report highlights that such laws and increased surveillance have created a sense of fear in the region.
The systematic human rights violation in Kashmir has exposed the world’s so-called largest democracy. The situation on ground has not improved. The silence of the world in general and the champions of human rights in particular is a tragedy in itself. The double standards of the major powers, diminish the chances of Pakistan and India coming to an understanding on Kashmir dispute. So, the unfolding situation in Kashmir must concern the international community. The report is a step ahead to trigger conscience of the world leaders to protect human rights and pressurize India to implement the United Nations resolutions. The Indian government must be held accountable by the world for the injustices inflicted upon Kashmir. Given the state of systemic human rights violations in IIOJK, Amnesty International calls on the Government of India to immediately stop the politically motivated persecution of human rights activists and journalists. The illegal laws must be brought in accordance with the international human rights law. It is high time that the Indian government removes unjust hurdles placed on the people of IIOJK in exercising their freedom of expression and ensuring their right to justice. For upholding the human rights principles, the people of Kashmir must be redressed by holding the perpetrators accountable. A fair and an independent investigation must be carried out to help provide justice to the victims.
The writer is a Research Officer at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad. She tweets @ZukhrufAmin