India using range of brutal tactics to silence journalists, activists in IIOJK: UK-based research firm

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UK-based independent research firm, the Stoke White Investigations (SWI) has painted a disturbing picture of systematic abuse that journalists and activists are facing in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir, saying the Modi-led fascist Indian government has employed a range of tactics to ensure no reporting critical of its actions comes out of the territory.

According to Kashmir Media Service, in its new investigative report titled ‘Silencing Journalism and Human Rights in Kashmir’, the SWI says it has compiled at least 2000 testimonies of Kashmiris between 2020 and 2021, and as per the individual accounts, New Delhi is responsible for various crimes, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, kidnapping, torture and sexual violence.

The SWI report says that it has documented more than 2,000 cases – all of serious nature, and the most glaring ones included 450 cases of torture, 1500 victims of pellet gun shootings, 100 enforced disappearances and 30 accounts of sexual violence.

According to the SWI report, the buck stops at General Manoj Mukund Naravane, former chief of Indian Army, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah and eight other senior military officials, who should be held accountable for serious rights violations in IIOJK.

The authors of the investigative report, Khalil Dewan and Nasir Qadri, maintained India’s culture of impunity has shielded all the responsible for these violations from facing the court of law.

“Nearly three decades have passed and not a single member of the Indian military has been prosecuted for unlawful conduct in J&K, despite growing evidence against the armed forces. To make matters worse, the police as well as the Indian army prevent victims from reporting crimes committed by their personnel to the local police station,” said the report.

In January, the SWI handed over a body of evidence to the UK’s Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit, which showed how India’s top ministers and officials were involved in human rights abuses in IIOJK.

The authors also highlight how India uses its legal system, especially its disingenuous application of counter-terrorism strategy, to criminalise critical reporting and matters that are normally seen as part of free speech in democratic countries elsewhere.

They highlighted the cases of three journalists Sajad Gul, Fahad Shah and Aasif Sultan who were jailed on separate occasions between 2018 and 2022. Although the Indian courts are yet to hold them guilty of any serious crimes, they are facing detention under draconian law, Public Safety Act (PSA), they said, adding many rights defenders have slammed the Indian government for weaponising PSA against both journalists and human rights defenders.

“India’s recent media policy draws on from tactics and strategies used by the military and law enforcement in practice, where any form of transparency or documentation on incidents in Kashmir is seen as a threat to the Indian authorities,” one of the authors, Khalil Dewan said.

“Indian authorities have included a strategy to conduct background checks including verification of antecedents of each journalist. To do this, guidelines for accreditation are being revised and updated by the Indian authorities to reflect the aim of controlling journalists and, by extension, human rights defenders who use the same platforms for publishing their work,” said the report.

“Indian occupied Jammu Kashmir is under unprecedented censorship and this undemocratic form of muzzling the voices of people has intensified manifold after the revocation of Article 370 and 35(A),” Nasri Qadri said.

The new media policy with such a broad mandate allows New Delhi to go after any journalist in Kashmir, the report noted.

“In the medium to long-term, this could develop into a social engineering programme/policy to re-organise and nurture journalism and the reporting industry to reflect an engineered positive image of the Indian authorities,” the report said.

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