06, Jan 2018 | CJP Team
The Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), in its annual report for 2017, mentions the “upward surge” of human rights violations in the valley last year. Particularly in the efforts of pushing back against dissent, according to the report, “the authorities continue to use [sic] Public Safety Act (PSA) as an instrument to suppress dissent,” but notes that “courts quashed scores of detention orders” in 2017, because they failed to withstand judicial scrutiny. However, the report alleged that “despite a noticeable improvement in the situation as claimed by the government, there seems no end to the practice of detaining people without charges under PSA to keep them ‘out of circulation,'” adding that most of those booked are political workers or youths who are “booked on charges of stone pelting.” The report documents seven examples of detentions under the PSA.
The report alleges that there were numerous situations in 2017 in which “a person was re-booked without release to prolong his detention once the court quashed their previous detention orders,” adding that “it appears that the authorities have open and readymade PSA dossiers available to them, almost like a standard copy which they use against anyone they deem a threat to ‘public security’.” According to the report, the chief minister said on September 23, 2017 that in the last three years, police have compiled 1059 dossiers to detain people. The report highlights the PSA detention of Masarat Alam Bhat, Muslim League head and Hurriyat leader, saying that “he was slapped with his 36th” consecutive “PSA order,” and was moved to Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu, where is still being detained. According to the report, he “has spent most of his time in jail since his arrest in late 2010 following the popular mass uprising, which he spearheaded.” The report underscores his detention as a key example of “revolving door detentions” that are employed against dissenters.
Attacks on the media
In the vein of curbing dissent, the report notes that “assaults on local journalists by state forces have seen a steep rise” in 2017, later alleging that “it appears that the armed forces are committed to suppressing media coverage of its [sic] misconduct while dealing with the situation in Kashmir.” According to the report, “at least twenty-one journalists have been killed in Kashmir since the early nineties.” The report documents seven attacks on journalists in 2017 in chronological order, describing at least two instances instances where reporters were threatened by armed officers. In another instance, in March, freelance photojournalist Abid Bhat, whose work has appeared in publications like BBC World and the Wall Street Journal, “was injured during clashes between youth and government forces in Srinagar’s Rangreth area;” Bhat said “he took a hit from a policeman’s riot shield,” according to the report. The report says that in September, Kashmiri photojournalist Kamran Yousuf was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), “for his alleged involvement in ‘stone pelting’ incidents;” Yousuf is still in judicial custody in New Delhi, according to the report, which notes that this prompted “widespread condemnation from the media fraternity in Kashmir.” The report also describes the case of French journalist Paul Comiti, who police said was arrested “while he was preparing a documentary on the pellet victims,” booked under the Passport Act. Comiti was freed on bail two days after his arrest, but his belongings and passport remained with the police, the report said.
The report emphasises that “state action was not only confined to the on-field journalists,” noting that “action was taken against as many as 34” television channels in May 2017. The State Home Department, in a letter, told all Deputy Commissioners to take action against the channels, saying that “they have the potential to encourage violence and can disturb law and order situation in Kashmir, and are not permitted for transmission.” After listing the channels, the report notes that they include news and religious channels, as well as two culinary channels, a sports channel, and a music channel.
Curbing Internet Access
The report alleges that “the most unreliable thing in Kashmir is undoubtedly internet service,” calling this “another attempt of the authorities to prevent the information from reaching…the public.” The report describes how bandwidth is often cut, “making it difficult to for people to post or download any information of public interest.” The report says the “frequent internet shutdowns” disrupted the “functioning of media” as well as that of businesses and education. The report includes at least more than 35 separate instances of “unreasonable curtailments and total suspensions of telecommunication and internet rights” between mid-2016 and the end of 2017, based on “reliable news reports, and first-hand knowledge.” Notable among these is the suspension of mobile and Internet services (barring the state-owned BSNL) in all districts of Jammu and Kashmir after the death of Burhan Wani in July 2016. In September 2016, broadband services “were totally suspended in the Kashmir district” ahead of Eid, resuming only after five days. Moreover, a complete curfew was imposed, with graveyards and mosques being blockaded and Eid congregations barred from prayers, the report alleges. The report also notes of mobile and broadband internet services being suspended in the districts of Budgam, Ganderbal, and Srinagar on April 8, 2017, ahead of the Srinagar by-polls, “in the context of a popular call for election boycott by Kashmiri political leaders, extensive curfews, mass arrests and restrictions by the state on free movement and assembly.” On April 17, report said prepaid mobile Internet services were suspended after videos depicting “torture and human rights violations by forces during the electoral process” circulated on social media. Later in April, the state government issued an order “blocking 22 social media sites and applications including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter in the Kashmir division” on the grounds of public order, and invoking the Indian Telegraph Act (1885) and rules (2007), the report said. The order was in effect for one month. The report also noted at least three instances in October in which mobile and/or Internet services were suspended in certain areas in the state in relation to incidents of braid-chopping.
The report stresses that the suspension of telephone services and the “blanket and indefinite suspensions and restrictions of Internet rights…amount to the arbitrary, indiscriminate and prolonged collective punishment of a population, jeopardizing lives, livelihoods, and causing grave hardships in carrying out normal business, educational, and social activities.” It also alleges that such constraints are aimed at preventing “all forms of political mobilization, expressions of dissent and political opinions that criticize the Indian administration in Kashmir,” noting that the restrictions have been employed in tandem with “censorship measures by private corporations” like Twitter and Facebook “to target social media activists and commentators”. The report also details that constraints imposed on mobile and Internet services disrupt attempts at communicating information about ongoing human rights abuses in the valley, alleging that “India has always been averse to international attention and intervention in the Kashmir dispute.” The report has noted that India has continued to deny access to Kashmir for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to study human rights violations.
Curbing the Freedom of Movement and Assembly
According to the report, residents’ freedom of movement “continues to be restricted,” with authorities imposing around 20 statewide and 40 partial or district-based curfews in 2017. The report said around 22 total shutdowns took place, with around 100 partial or district-based shutdowns. It also alleges that after students protested in April 2017, there was increase in shutdowns of schools and colleges.
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