Censorship

Counter-terror raids on civil society groups in Kashmir signal escalating crackdown on dissent: Amnesty

Srinagar: Amnesty International in a statement has condemned the series of raids by counter-terrorism forces on the homes and premises of civil society groups, human rights defenders and journalists in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) region.

“The Indian government must immediately halt its intensifying suppression of dissent,” said Amnesty International in a statement.

The statement comes from Amnesty International after Amnesty India was forced to halt its work and let go of its employees in the country in October after its bank accounts were frozen by the government, shortly after it released a Situation Update on human rights in Jammu & Kashmir.

On Wednesday, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the country’s premier anti-terror agency, raided the residences and offices of prominent human rights activists Khurram Parvez, the co-ordinator of J&K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), three of his associates, and Parveena Ahanger, Chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).

Both organizations have reported extensively on human rights abuses in Kashmir, including the indefinite administrative detention and extrajudicial execution of human rights defenders, torture of people in detention and the widespread impunity of the security forces in the region.

Further raids were carried out on the offices of the NGOs Athrout and GK Trust and on the residence of Agence France-Presse’s Kashmir correspondent Parvaiz Bukhari.

“These raids are an alarming reminder that India’s government is determined to suppress all dissenting voices in Jammu and Kashmir,” Amnesty said.

According to a statement released by the NIA, the raids were conducted based on ‘credible information’ that the organizations have been using funding from India and abroad ‘for secessionist and terrorist activities in J&K’, in contravention of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), India’s primary anti-terror and foreign funding laws.

“These raids are an alarming reminder that India’s government is determined to suppress all dissenting voices in Jammu and Kashmir. The authorities are evidently targeting these civil society and media groups because of their continued work reporting and advocating for the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir despite a harsh communications blackout that was imposed by the Indian government in the region since 5 August 2019,” said Julie Verhaar, Acting Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“In a worrying pattern, the UAPA and the foreign funding law are being repeatedly and deliberately weaponized to intimidate, harass and restrict the ability of civil society groups from operating, in clear violation of their rights to freedom of expression and association,” Amnesty further said.

In September 2020, APDP had submitted almost 40 testimonies of victims who were subjected to arbitrary detention and torture by armed forces in Kashmir, to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

On August 5, 2020, JKCCS published its bi-annual human rights review documenting the extrajudicial executions of at least 32 individuals and the impact of internet shutdowns in the region.

Taking about the laws that are used to ‘criminalise human rights defenders’, Amnesty said, “both UAPA and FCRA have been criticized by UN human rights experts for their overarching nature, which is used to criminalise religious minorities, political dissidents and human rights defenders.”

In October 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Michelle Bachelet appealed to the government of India to review the FCRA and its compliance with international human rights norms, and regretted that it was being “used to deter or punish NGOs for human rights reporting”.

Since 2014, several organizations have been targeted under the foreign funding law, including Greenpeace India, Lawyers Collective, Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns, Sabrang Trust, Navsarjan Trust, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, NGO Hazards Centre, and Indian Social Action Forum.

On October 19, the office of the Kashmir Times, a news daily was sealed by the Jammu & Kashmir Estates Department.

Since August 5, 2019, Anuradha Bhasin, the editor of Kashmir Times has spearheaded the litigation in the Supreme Court of India against the shutdown of internet and telephone services in Jammu & Kashmir.

In its Situation Update, Amnesty International India documented physical attacks on and intimidation of at least 18 journalists since Augus 5,t 2019.

It also demanded the withdrawal of a draconian media policy which was introduced by the government to create “a sustained narrative on the functioning of the government in media” by checking on “anti-national activities”.

“By directly attacking and failing to protect civil society organizations organisations, India stands in a clear violation of its human rights obligations, particularly Articles 19 and 22 of the International Covenant of the Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which it’s a state party,” Amnesty said.

 

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