New York, July 27: Human Rights Watch, a United States based human rights body has deplored the state of human rights in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir citing ordeal of hundreds of Kashmiris who have been detained without charge under the draconian Public Safety Act, which permits detention without trial for up to two years.
In its World Report 2021, Human Rights Watch’s 31st annual review of human rights practices and trends around the globe, reviewed developments in more than 100 countries including India. The report reflects investigative work that Human Rights Watch staff undertook in 2020, usually in close partnership with human rights activists in the country in questions.
“The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act continued to provide effective immunity from prosecution to security forces, even for serious human rights abuses. In July, security forces killed three people in Shopian district, claiming they were militants. However, in August, their families, who identified them from photographs of the killings circulated on social media, said they were laborers.
In September, the army said that its inquiry had found prima facie evidence that its troops exceeded powers under the AFSPA and it would take disciplinary proceedings against those “answerable.” The security forces also continued to use shotguns firing metal pellets to disperse crowds, despite evidence that they are inherently inaccurate and cause injuries indiscriminately, including to bystanders, violating India’s international obligations,” it bemoaned.
Citing media gag in IIOJK, Human Rights Watch said: “In June, the government announced a new media policy in Jammu and Kashmir that empowers the authorities to decide what is “fake news, plagiarism and unethical or anti-national activities” and to take punitive action against media outlets, journalists, and editors.” It stated that the policy contained vague and overbroad provisions that were open to abuse and could unnecessarily restrict and penalize legally protected speech.
The human rights body said that the Indian government also clamped down on critics, journalists, and human rights activists. “The restrictions, including on access to communications networks, since August 2019 adversely affected livelihoods, particularly in the tourism-dependent Kashmir Valley,” it added.
The Human Rights Watch pointed out the ordeal of Kashmiri traders quoting the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries which had estimated that in the first three months of the lockdown to prevent protests since August 2019 cost the economy over $2.4 billion, for which no redress was provided.
“Losses nearly doubled since the Indian government imposed further restrictions to contain the spread of Covid-19 in March 2020. The pandemic made access to the internet crucial for information, communication, education, and business. However, even after the Supreme Court said in January that access to the internet was a fundamental right, authorities permitted only slow-speed 2G mobile internet services, leading doctors to complain that the lack of internet was hurting the Covid-19 response,” it added.
It also pointed out that the impunity for Indian forces in the early weeks of the nationwide lockdown announced in March to contain Covid-19, in several states, police beat people who violated the lockdown, including those trying to get essential supplies. It said in West Bengal, police allegedly beat a 32-year-old man to death after he stepped out of his home to get milk. A video from Uttar Pradesh showed police forcing migrant workers, who were trying to walk home, to hop on the street to humiliate them.
“Police in several states also arbitrarily punished people or publicly shamed them for breaking the lockdown. New cases of torture in police custody and extrajudicial killings highlighted continued lack of accountability for police abuses and failure to enforce police reforms. For the first 10 months, until October, the National Human Rights Commission reported 77 deaths in police custody, 1,338 deaths in judicial custody, and 62 alleged extrajudicial killings,” it added.
In June, a father and son died in police custody in Tamil Nadu state after being detained for allegedly violating Covid-19 lockdown rules. “In September, the Central Bureau of Investigation, which was asked to investigate the deaths following nationwide outrage, charged nine policemen with murder and destruction of evidence,” it added.
“In July Uttar Pradesh police killed a suspect Vikas Dubey, saying he was trying to escape police custody, making him the 119th person to be killed in an alleged extrajudicial killing since the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh led by Ajay Bisht, who uses the title Yogi Adityanath, took office in March 2017. In September, the Uttar Pradesh government announced it would set up a special police force that would be empowered to search and arrest without warrant, raising further concerns about police abuse,” it said.