US State Department annual report highlights alleged rights violation in Jammu and Kashmir

By Abdul Bari Masoud

In a detailed report on human rights violations in India in the year 2020, the US State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, has, among other things, has given accounts of alleged human rights violations being committed by the forces in Jammu and Kashmir.

The country report has also reproached India on her alleged human rights record in Kashmir after its special status was unilaterally stripped by the BJP-led central government on August 5, 2019.

Check on press and media freedom

In February the Kashmir Press Club stated security agencies had routinely deployed intimidation tactics such as threats, summonses, and physical attacks on journalists in Jammu and Kashmir.

On February 8, journalists Naseer Ganai and Haroon Nabi were summoned to the police facility, where they were questioned for reporting on a statement by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front.

In June the Jammu and Kashmir government released the Media Policy-–2020, which authorizes the Directorate of Information and Publication Relations to “examine” the content of print, electronic, and other forms of media for “fake news, plagiarism, and unethical or anti national activities” in the name of law and order.

The report specially mentions various examples where the authorities allegedly intimidate and threaten the media.

“Journalists working in Jammu and Kashmir continued to face barriers to free reporting through communications and movement restrictions. Criminal prosecutions were often used to gag journalists critical of the authorities, including the use of a section of the penal code that includes sedition punishable by life imprisonment. In February the Kashmir Press Club stated security agencies had routinely deployed intimidation tactics such as threats, summonses, and physical attacks on journalists in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report says.

It particularly recounted the 26-year old photojournalist Masrat Zahra’s case.

“On April 18, police in Kashmir booked photojournalist Masrat Zahra under the UAPA for indulging in “antinational activities” on social media. In a statement police accused Zahra of “uploading anti national posts with criminal intention, uploading posts that glorify anti national activities and dent the image of law enforcing agencies besides causing disaffection against the country. Zahra maintained she was sharing archival images that had already been published in different local and international social media platforms. The investigation continued at year’s end.”

A statement by Srinagar’s Cyber Police Station said it received information through “reliable sources that one Facebook user namely ‘Masrat Zahra’ is uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention”.

“The Facebook user is also believed to be uploading photographs which can provoke the public to disturb law and order. The user is also uploading posts that tantamount to glorify the anti-national activities and dent the image of law enforcing agencies besides causing disaffection against the country,” the Cyber Police Station statement said.

The report also takes the notice of Jamia Millia Islamia scholar and anti-CAA activist Safoora Zargar’s case.  Zargar hails from Kashmir.

“On April 10, authorities arrested pregnant student leader Safoora Zargar under the UAPA for allegedly conspiring to incite the Delhi riots. The Delhi High Court released her on June 23 after the central government did not object to her release.”

Use of draconian laws

The report provides details of many instances where the use of draconian laws has allegedly given sense of total impunity to the forces in Kashmir. It states “Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the central government may designate a state or union territory as a “disturbed area,” authorizing security forces in the state to use deadly force to “maintain law and order” and to arrest any person “against whom reasonable suspicion exists” without informing the detainee of the grounds for arrest. The law also provides security forces immunity from civilian prosecution for acts committed in regions under the AFSPA.”

“The Public Safety Act (PSA), which applies only in Jammu and Kashmir, permits authorities to detain persons without charge or judicial review for up to two years without visitation from family members.”

The country report underscored that “There were allegations of enforced disappearance by the Jammu and Kashmir police. Although authorities denied these charges and claimed no enforced disappearances had occurred since 2015, the International Federation for Human Rights reported that cases of enforced disappearances continued through 2019.”

“In February the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances identified seven cases under its standard procedures concerning individuals who were arrested, detained, or otherwise deprived of rights. The Working Group had not received permission to visit the country since it first submitted a request to the government in 2010.”

The country report refers to specific incidents where the Central Government allegedly violated the very principles of human decency and democratic freedom against the people of Kashmir. It says, “In responding to demonstrations that started in July 2016, Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries. … One of the most dangerous weapons used against protesters during the unrest in 2016 was the pellet-firing shotgun.”

On arbitrary arrests and detention

The country report was very concerned about arbitrary arrests and detention. It noted, “Following the central government’s August 2019 abrogation of a special constitutional provision that provided autonomous status for Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used a public safety law to detain local politicians without trial. Most detainees were released during the year. Media reports indicated those released were required to sign bonds agreeing not to engage in political activity.”

The country report talks about the denial of fair public trials. It underlines, “In April, Mohammed Yasin Malik, leader of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was arrested and charged with murder in the death of four Air Force officials in 1990. Malik was denied the right to be physically present in court. Human rights groups in Kashmir, including the JKCCS, expressed concern regarding whether Malik was receiving a fair trial.”

It is said political prisoners from Kashmir are facing many hardships. Their relatives do not have free access to meet with them even on special occasions.

The report also underlines, “NGOs reported the central government held political prisoners and temporarily detained individuals in Jammu and Kashmir under the PSA. On September 15, the Ministry of Home Affairs informed parliament that 223 political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir, who had been detained after August 2019, remained in detention but added “no person is under house arrest.”

The country report quoted international experts and NGOs who have not been able to visit Jammu and Kashmir. It notes, “Various domestic and international human rights organizations continued to express serious concern at the use of pellet guns by security forces for crowd-control purposes in Jammu and Kashmir. In March the Jammu and Kashmir High Court dismissed the public interest litigation petition seeking a ban on the use of pellet guns on protesters, asserting that police have the right to administer force in self-defense when facing violent protests.”

It also highlights several instances of alleged torture which has been used against civilians in Jammu & Kashmir.

The report says, “A May 2019 report by the JKCCS and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons alleged that police, military, and paramilitary forces in Jammu and Kashmir used torture against civilians and opposition over the past four decades. The report documented 432 testimonies from individuals who claimed to have been tortured. There were continued allegations of physical abuse and torture following the government’s enhanced security measures in Jammu and Kashmir after the August 2019 move to abrogate Article 370 of the constitution.”

It was acknowledged that Internet ban has been a serious problem. Even the Supreme Court has intervened in the matter which was now complexly restored.

It has been noted in the US report, “The center reported the longest shutdown occurred between August 4, 2019, and March 4 in Jammu and Kashmir.”

The right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are basic human rights. On this count, the report states, “Jammu and Kashmir was an exception, where the state government sometimes denied permits to separatist political parties for public gatherings, and security forces reportedly occasionally detained and assaulted members of political groups engaged in peaceful protest (see section 1.g.). During periods of civil unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used the law to ban public assemblies and impose curfews.”

International NGOs including the United Nations Special Rapporteurs have been denied entry into Kashmir.

The report says, “The government continued to decline access by the United Nations to Jammu and Kashmir and limit access to the northeastern states and Maoist-controlled areas. In an August statement, UN human rights experts called on the government “to take urgent action to address the alarming human rights situation in the territory.”

The UN special rapporteurs noted that since August 2019, “the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir has been in free fall,” and they were “particularly concerned that during the COVID-19 pandemic, many protesters are still in detention and Internet restrictions remain in place.” The group appealed to the government “to schedule pending visits as a matter of urgency, particularly of the experts dealing with torture and disappearances.”

It is to mention here the U.S. Department of State submits annual reports on all countries receiving assistance and all United Nations member states to the U.S. Congress in accordance with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Trade Act of 1974. The voluminous country report 2020 r released on March 30, 2021.

However, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs dismissed the US report. “This is clearly an internal exercise of the US government,” Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said at a press briefing. “We are not a party to it. There should be a proper understanding of developments in India.”

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