Kashmir: Communications shutdown, a ‘collective punishment’ must be reversed, UN experts urge India

[dropcap]U[/dropcap]N human rights experts have urged the Government of India to end gag on freedom of expression allow access to information and peaceful protests in Jammu and Kashmir.

The experts expressed concern that the draconian measures, imposed after the Parliament revoked the Constitutionally-mandated status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, would escalate tensions in the region.

There has been a near-total communications blackout in Jammu and Kashmir since the evening of August 4, with internet access, mobile phone networks, and cable and Kashmiri television channels cut off.

“The shutdown of the internet and telecommunication networks without justification from the Government, are inconsistent with the fundamental norms of necessity and proportionality,” said the experts.

“The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offence.”

The Government has also imposed a curfew across Kashmir Valley, mobilizing massive numbers of troops to enforce restrictions on the freedom of movement and of peaceful assembly.

“We remind the Indian authorities that the restrictions imposed by the Indian Government are intrinsically disproportionate because they preclude considerations of the specific circumstances of each proposed assembly,” said the experts.

At the same time, information received suggests that there has been an increase in the arrest of political figures, journalists, human rights defenders, protesters and others.


Concern over ‘night raids’


The experts said they were deeply concerned by reports that security forces were conducting night raids on private homes leading to the arrests of young people. “Such detentions could constitute serious human rights violations,” the experts said. “The allegations must be thoroughly investigated by the authorities, and, if confirmed, those responsible must be held accountable.

“We are gravely concerned about 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,” said the experts.

They also expressed serious concern about the use of excessive force against protesters, including the use of live ammunition, which could amount to violations of the right to life. “India has the responsibility to use the minimum force necessary when policing protests,” the experts said. “This means that the use of deadly force is a measure permissible only as last resort and to protect life.”

The experts, who issued the statement include David Kaye (USA), Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Michel Forst (France), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Bernard Duhaime, Chair-Rapporteur, Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association, Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.