Censorship

‘Politics, as we know it, is over in Kashmir’: Amnesty demands release of political leaders, journalists

Srinagar: Amnesty International India on Thursday produced a third report of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir ever since the government of India stripped JK of its semi-autonomous status and statehood.

The Human Rights movement, said that the Government of India “unilaterally revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution” on August 5, 2019.

Article 370 guaranteed special autonomy to JK and gave it independence over matters excluding foreign affairs, defence and communication. This was followed by the enactment of the JK Reorganization Act on 31 October 2019 that bifurcated the erstwhile state into two separate union territories. Union territories, as opposed to states, are governed by the Government of India.

The Act also amended or repealed critical laws passed by the JK Legislative Assembly. All these amendments and changes were made amidst a complete communication clampdown, curfew on movement and mass detentions of political leaders in the region.

“Even today, as the world and country fight the COVID pandemic, the communication services remain hindered, several political leaders detained and free press censored in the region,” the report said.

According to Amnesty, the situation update is indicative of the various challenges in the region – covering detention of political leaders, a severe clampdown on freedom of the press, protracted restrictions to Internet access and its resulting impediment in access to healthcare, education and justice along with challenges thrown up due to COVID in prisons and the closure of other autonomous bodies.

Urging the Government of India to release all those who are placed under administrative detention in JK, Amnesty International India said: “Politics, as we know it, is over in Kashmir. Politics is all about representation. This move has stripped people of any semblance of representation that they might have had.”

Most political leaders were detained either under the JK Public Safety Act, 1978 (PSA) or Section 107 and 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

“Since 5 August 2019, Amnesty International India has documented a clear pattern of authorities using administrative detention on politicians, activists and anyone likely to hold a dissenting opinion in JK,” the report said.

These detentions cut across a wide political spectrum and included members from the J&K People’s Democratic Party, J&K National Conference, J&K Peoples Movement, Indian National Congress, J&K Democratic Party Nationalist, J&K Awami Ittihad Party, Dogra Swabhimaan Sangathan and the J&K Panthers Party.

“The executive magistrates in Kashmir region have been unlawfully issuing verbal orders of detentions under Section 107 and 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which also allows for administrative detention, without keeping any record.”

Amnesty International India could not find any information on the detention of political leaders belonging to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is the current ruling party in India.

Freedom of the press is crucial for holding institutions accountable. The protracted communication restrictions in JK along with the rising “intimidation” faced by journalists raise grave concerns of human rights violations that may occur yet remain unreported due to Government of India’s near-total control over information coming out of the region, the report said.

“The Amnesty International India also urges the Government of India to immediately put an end to the clampdown on the press in JK, including withdrawal of the new Media Policy 2020 and revoking the various cases against journalists under PSA and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.”

“The misuse of repressive laws and ushering in of far-reaching policies has resulted in journalists policing themselves from fear of offending the authorities and the government pushing its own narrative,” the report said.

As per the report, a month before the August lockdown, Fayaz Ahmad Kaloo, editor of Greater Kashmir and president of Kashmir Editors Guild were summoned to Delhi and questioned by the National Investigation Agency for six days between 1 and 6 July 2019. He was allegedly interrogated about the articles in Greater Kashmir and sources of funds for his organization.

“The fact that every second journalist has been either summoned by the police or questioned on the phone or ticked off or intimidated in some way or the other – all these things are adding to this fear psychosis.”

Earlier in the year, the government had also stopped advertisements to both Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Reader – the largest English language newspapers of the region.

About Internet shutdown in JK since 2019, the report said Internet access has been disrupted by at least 90 government-imposed Internet shutdowns – the highest in the world.

It also directed the government to ensure the availability of Internet connectivity to essential services such as hospitals and banks.

On 16 February 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir government added more than 1,000 websites to its Internet whitelist, taking the total number from 481 to 1,485.

“The Jammu and Kashmir police also invoked the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against people allegedly misusing social media sites through proxy servers.”

On 4 March 2020, 2G mobile Internet services were restored in Kashmir after seven months along with the lifting of restrictions on social media websites. However, within a few weeks, a second lockdown was imposed in the region to curb the spread of the COVID pandemic.

Five months on, the continued restrictions to Internet speed in the region to 2G mobile Internet and frequent Internet shutdowns even during the pandemic has led to the unreliability of the Internet connections in Kashmir.

 

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