The Leaflet

| @theleaflet_in | August 26,2019

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]MNESTY International has called upon Modi government to immediately release all political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir, and put an end to the “deliberate silencing of voices” in the region, pointing out that human rights violations risk in the restive state is going unreported because of communication blockade.

Stressing that administrative detention is being used by the authorities to curb political mobilisation, the human rights watchdog, in a statement said, “Besides hindering the public’s right to know, it (communications blackout) also puts the lives of journalists at risk, increasing their chances of being harassed, arrested on politically motivated charges and prosecuted in connection with their work.”

In the statement, head of Amnesty International in India Aakar Patel said: “For the 22nd day in a row, life has been derailed for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”

“In the aftermath of the unilateral revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that guaranteed special status to Jammu and Kashmir by the Government of India, authorities have allegedly detained many political leaders including former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti; former bureaucrat-turned-politician Shah Faesal and Ravinder Sharma amongst others,” read the statement.“No official information is available on the number of people detained, their access to a lawyer or their family members, where they are being held and under what charges, if any.”

“These detentions not only violate international law but clearly indicate the stifling of freedom of expression in the region,” he added.

Condemning the communications blockade and security clampdown, Patel added that the detention of political leaders and restrictions on media to report has created an information black hole in Jammu and Kashmir – a region which has witnessed serious human rights violations in the past.

“Depriving an entire population of their right to freedom of expression, opinion, and movement for an indefinite period run squarely counter to international norms and standards. Worse, it gives the Government of India a near-total control over the information coming out of the region,” noted Patel.

The human rights body also expressed concerns over the wider human rights impact of the communication clampdown.“While access to information to the people of Jammu and Kashmir remains hindered in times of crises, their access to emergency services, and other information and services, including healthcare and education also remains highly restricted.”

“While landline telephones were partially restored over 17-18 August, unsurprisingly, their redundancy and sketchy availability in the region has not helped in facilitating communication, with access remaining limited outside Srinagar,” the statement noted, and added: “The clampdown has also restricted journalists and activists from documenting and sharing information about the situation in the region, including allegations of human rights abuses. The local media websites of the region remain last updated on August 5 and print version of the newspapers have not been carrying editorial opinions.”

“Besides hindering the public’s right to know, it also puts the lives of journalists at risk, increasing their chances of being harassed, arrested on politically motivated charges and prosecuted in connection with their work,” it underscored, and cited the United Nations Human Rights Council’s call for the Narendra Modi-led government to end the crackdown terming government’s move a “form of collective punishment” for the people of the state.

Amnesty International also highlighted that the UN Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups had raised concerns over “allegations that the whereabouts of some of those detained is not known as well as the general heightened risk of enforced disappearances, which may proliferate against the backdrop of mass arrests and restricted access to the internet and other communications networks”.

Quoting Reuter’s report, it further stated that “Between 5 and 21 August, 152 people were admitted to Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences and Shri Maharaj Hari Singh hospital with injuries from pellet shots and tear gas fire.”

“However, because of the communication clampdown, the exact number of casualties remain difficult to confirm,” it remarked.

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