Amnesty International has asked the Government of India to “immediately halt its intensifying suppression of dissent.” The human rights monitor, even though forced to close its work in India has closely been following developments in the country. Most recently the raids conducted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) at the homes and offices of civil society groups, human rights defenders and journalists in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), that started on Wednesday October 28.
October 28, the NIA team conducted raids at multiple places, including properties belonging to human rights defenders, NGOs, and even a media house in Srinagar, in connection with a ‘terror funding’ probe. The NIA raided the office of popular daily Greater Kashmir, as well as the home of well known human rights activist Khurram Parvez, coordinator J&K Coalition of civil society, and journalist Parvez Bukhari. The NIA had also raided a location in Bangalore, Karnataka.
On October 29 were conducted at nine locations, two in Delhi, the rest in Srinagar. In Delhi the property of former Delhi Minority Commission chief Zafarul-Islam Khan was raided by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Khan is the founding editor of the newspaper Milli Gazette and chairman of Charity Alliance, one of the six non-profits that are under the NIA scanner now. The NGOs raided by the NIA are Falah-e-Aam Trust, Charity Alliance, Human Welfare Foundation, JK Yateem Foundation, Salvation Movement, and J&K Voice of Victims. The Charity Alliance and Human Welfare Foundation are based in Delhi, while the rest are based in Jammu and Kashmir’s Srinagar.
Amnesty has stated that prominent human rights activists Khurram Parvez, the co-ordinator of J&K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), three of his associates and Parveena Ahanger, Chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), have reported extensively on human rights abuses in Kashmir, “including the indefinite administrative detention and extrajudicial execution of human rights defenders, torture of people in detention and the widespread impunity of the security forces in the region.”
It added that these raids are an “alarming reminder that India’s government is determined to suppress all dissenting voices in Jammu and Kashmir.” According to Julie Verhaar, Acting Secretary General of Amnesty International, “Authorities are evidently targeting these civil society and media groups because of their continued work reporting and advocating for the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir despite a harsh communications blackout that was imposed by the Indian government in the region since 5 August 2019.”
Verhaar, said this was a “worrying pattern” and that “the UAPA and the foreign funding law are being repeatedly and deliberately weaponized to intimidate, harass and restrict the ability of civil society groups from operating, in clear violation of their rights to freedom of expression and association.”
Amnesty International India had also been forced to halt its work and let go of its employees in the country from October 1, and its bank accounts were frozen by the government, shortly after it released a Situation Update on human rights in Jammu & Kashmir, stated Amnesty International adding that it was in September 2020, that APDP had “submitted almost 40 testimonies of victims who were subjected to arbitrary detention and torture by security forces in Kashmir, to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. On August 5, 2020, JKCCS published its bi-annual human rights review documenting the extrajudicial executions of at least 32 individuals and the impact of internet shutdowns in the region.”
It put on record that “UAPA and FCRA have been criticized by UN human rights experts for their overarching nature, which is used to criminalise religious minorities, political dissidents and human rights defenders. In October 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Michelle Bachelet appealed to the government of India to review the FCRA and its compliance with international human rights norms, and regretted that it was being “used to deter or punish NGOs for human rights reporting”.
According to Amnesty “since 2014, several organizations have been targeted under the foreign funding law, including Greenpeace India, Lawyers Collective, Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns, Sabrang Trust, Navsarjan Trust, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, NGO Hazards Centre, and Indian Social Action Forum. In September 2020, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the FCRA was further amended, without any public consultation, to choke civil society in India.”
Amnesty International also noted the sealing of the Kashmir Times office, by the Jammu & Kashmir Estates Department and that its editor Anuradha Bhasin, spearheaded the litigation in the Supreme Court of India against the shutdown of internet and telephone services in Jammu & Kashmir from August 5 2019.
“By directly attacking and failing to protect civil society organizations organisations, India stands in a clear violation of its human rights obligations, particularly Articles 19 and 22 of the International Covenant of the Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which it’s a state party,” stated the rights body.
Another international rights body, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), has issued a statement stressing that the freedom of religion or belief and the freedom of expression are “interdependent, interrelated and mutually reinforcing rights rooted in the articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Upholding and protecting these fundamental rights is the primary responsibility of member states. At the same time, freedom of expression should be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions.”
The High Representative statement noted “with deep concern the growing tensions and instances of intolerance triggered by the publication of the satirical caricatures depicting Prophet Muhammed, which Muslims consider insulting and deeply offensive. The inflammatory caricatures have also provoked acts of violence against innocent civilians who were attacked for their sheer religion, belief or ethnicity. The High Representative stresses that insulting religions and sacred religious symbols provokes hatred and violent extremism leading to polarization and fragmentation of the society. He calls for mutual respect of all religions and beliefs and for fostering a culture of fraternity and peace.”
The UNAOC statement may be read here:
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