By Mussawar Safi, LIPR Ambassador of Peace
The UN Special Rapporteur on enforced disappearances, human rights defenders, freedom of expression, and inhuman treatment sent a draft letter to the Indian government expressing concern about the detention and alleged terrible treatment of human rights defender Muhammad Ahsan Untoo and the use of counter-terrorism laws to target human rights defenders in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).
The letter, dated April 3, 2023, also discusses the harassment and intimidation of journalists, lawyers, politicians, activists, academics, and businessmen within IIOJK, Who have been subjected to police interrogation, raids, threats, physical violence, mobility restrictions, and invented criminal cases, censorship of news, and placement on the “No Fly List” without a judicial order.
In the letter, the Indian government is asked to respect and protect the rights of Kashmiri people who fight for human rights and free those being investigated. The statement is based on information that the Special Rapporteur and other UN experts got from different places, such as civil society organizations, media reports, and the stories of victims and witnesses.
The letter gives several examples of how the Indian government has violated the human rights of Kashmiri human rights defenders. For example, on September 4, 2019, Muhammad Ahsan Untoo was arrested and detained without a trial under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) because he was accused of being involved in terrorist activities. While Untoo was in prison, he was allegedly abused and not given medical care. He was also not allowed to talk to his lawyer or family. Untoo is a well-known human rights activist. Since 1990, he has been keeping track of police killings, sexual violence, mass graves, pellet gun injuries, and state violence in IIOJK and trying to get justice for the victims. He heads the Jammu and Kashmir International Forum for Justice and Human Rights.
Pervez Ahmad Dar will be arrested and jailed on June 19, 2020, because the UAPA says he is part of an illegal group. Dar is a writer who has written about human rights problems in IIOJK for both local and foreign news sites. The cops allegedly questioned and beat him while they had him in jail. He was also not allowed to talk to his lawyer or family.
Khurram Parvez was arrested and jailed on September 16, 2016, because he was considered a danger to public order. This was done under the Public Safety Act (PSA). Parvez is a human rights activist working in IIOJK on problems like forced disappearances, torture, and a lack of punishment. He is the Chairperson of the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). He was held without being charged or tried for 76 days before a court order let him go.
Masrat Zahra will be harassed and scared on April 18, 2020, under the UAPA because she is said to have posted anti-national things on social media. Zahra is a photographer who has been taking pictures of how war and the growth of the military have affected women and children in IIOJK. She was allegedly called in for questioning by the police and told she would be arrested if she did not delete her posts.
Since August 2019, the Indian government has put Syed Ali Shah Geelani on the “No Fly List” without a court order. Geelani is a well-known political leader and fighter who has been fighting for the people of IIOJK to have the right to decide for themselves. Since 2010, he has been stuck at home and unable to get medical care outside the country.
The communication is very worried about how anti-terrorism laws like the UAPA and the PSA are being used to make it illegal for human rights activists in IIOJK to do their jobs. The letter claims that these laws’ definitions of terrorism and unlawful activities are too vague and inclusive.
Concerning violations of fundamental human rights, including the right to freedom of speech and opinion as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, are evident in India’s illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). The government of India, headed by Narendra Modi, has been intimidating reporters and authors who want to cover the facts. Despite being hounded and attacked for only stating the truth and frequently being detained under draconian laws, authors in IIOJK continue to perform their work.
The government’s targeting of journalists and other members of the media is an obvious indicator of repression and an effort to exert influence over the narrative. Human rights organizations and other nations need to put pressure on India to allow free press in IIOJK. This will provide the international community a better idea of the situation on the ground and with respect to human rights there. Press freedom is vital to a functioning democracy and should be maintained even in restricted zones.
Abdul Mussawer Safi is a student of International Relations at the National Defence University Islamabad. He has worked with various think tanks and has written and researched the regional dynamics of South Asia. He has also highlighted many humanitarian issues in different outlets. He is interested in exploring the challenges and opportunities for peace and development in the region.
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