One year after India revoked Article 370 from Indian occupied Kashmir (state of Jammu and Kashmir), Indian authorities continue to impose harsh and inhuman restrictions on this Muslim majority region.
According to a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW), titled ‘India: Abuses Persist in Jammu and Kashmir: Internet Restrictions Amid Pandemic Exacerbate Yearlong Crackdown’ “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.” According to South Asia Director, Meenakshi Ganguly, “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. The authorities instead have maintained stifling restraints on Kashmiris in violation of their basic rights.”
According to HRW, “Prominent political leaders, including three former chief ministers, were among the thousands detained to prevent protests. Police told the courts that 144 children had also been taken into custody. While most of those held have since been released, according to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, based on habeas corpus petitions over 400 people remain in custody under the draconian Public Safety Act, which permits detention without trial for up to two years. 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.”
Further, 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. The policy contains vague and overbroad provisions that are open to abuse and could unnecessarily restrict and penalize legally protected speech. International law provides that restrictions on freedom of expression must be necessary for a legitimate purpose, such as the protection of national security, public health, or the rights of others, and strictly proportionate to achieve that end.”
Finally, “Doctors have complained that the lack of internet was hurting the Covid-19 response. “It is a new virus – research, studies, guidelines and updates are changing every other day,” said one doctor. “The internet helps doctors to keep a tab on developments around the world, but we cannot access video lectures or other information in the absence of high-speed internet. Even as the pandemic is forcing the world to address discrimination and inequality, the Indian government is persisting with its repression of Kashmiri Muslims. The government should reverse its abusive policies and provide remedies for those whose rights were violated.”