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HRW Slams GoI Over ‘Human Rights Abuses’ In Kashmir

KO Pic: Abid Bhat

Srinagar: The international rights body Human Rights Watch on Tuesday slammed government of India for continued harsh and discriminatory restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir, one year after the revocation of the erstwhile state’s constitutional status on August 5, 2019.

In a statement issued from New York, the international human rights body said that the government’s unwarranted restraints on the rights to free speech, access to information, health care, and education have been intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic in Jammu and Kashmir. On August 3, 2020, the HRW statement said, the authorities issued an order restricting movement for two days to prevent “violent protests” against last year’s decision to revoke constitutional autonomy.

“Indian government claims that it was determined to improve Kashmiri lives ring hollow one year after the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional status,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The authorities instead have maintained stifling restraints on Kashmiris in violation of their basic rights,” she added.

Quoting a report of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, the HRW statement said that over 400 people remain in custody under the draconian Public Safety Act, after the August 5 move.

“There also have been several allegations of new arrests, torture, and ill-treatment by security forces. The government has also used harsh counterterrorism and sedition laws to clamp down on peaceful critics,” the statement said.

The statement also accused government of harassing businessmen and journalists, besides bringing in new media policy in Jammu and Kashmir to take punitive action against media outlets, journalists, and editors.

“The government crackdown adversely affected livelihoods, particularly in the tourism-dependent Kashmir Valley,” Human Rights Watch statement said.

It quoted Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries as estimating that the first three months of a lockdown to prevent protests since August 2019 cost the economy over US $2.4 billion, for which no redress has been provided.

“Losses have nearly doubled since the government imposed further restrictions to contain Covid-19 in March,” the HRW said.

“The pandemic has made access to the internet crucial for information, communication, education, and business. However, the authorities have only barely complied with Supreme Court orders in January to treat access to the internet as a fundamental right, permitting only slow-speed 2G mobile internet services,” it added. Referring to the continued ban on high speed internet, the HRW said that the doctors and students were facing tough time due to the continued ban on the 4G internet in the Valley. Indian authorities should take immediate steps to protect rights by releasing political detainees; upholding the right to free speech, including by withdrawing cases against journalists and activists; restoring full internet access; and holding to account officials responsible for rights violations, Human Rights Watch said.

“Even as the pandemic is forcing the world to address discrimination and inequality, the Indian government is persisting with its repression of Kashmiri Muslims,” Ganguly said, adding “The government should reverse its abusive policies and provide remedies for those whose rights were violated.”