HRW says India continued to restrict basic rights in IIOJK in 2023

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Washington: Washington-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that the Indian authorities continued to restrict free expression, peaceful assembly, and other rights in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir in 2023.

According to Kashmir Media Service, the HRW in its World Report 2024 maintained that reports of extrajudicial killings by Indian forces’ personnel continued throughout the year in 2023. It said that critics and human rights defenders faced arrests and raids based on spurious terrorism allegations.

The report said that on March 22, prominent Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Parvez, already detained since November 2021 on accusations of terrorism, was charged on allegations of financing terrorism under draconian law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). It said that on March 20, Irfan Mehraj, a journalist formerly associated with Parvez’s human rights organization, was also arrested in the same case. The UN human rights experts have repeatedly called for Parvez’s release and condemned the use of the UAPA to target civil society and human rights defenders, it added.

The HRW report said that in April 2023, six UN human rights experts wrote to the Indian government over the alleged arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of human rights defender Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, saying that his detention “appears to be part of a strategy to disrupt, intimidate, detain and punish those engaging in journalism and human rights advocacy.”

The report said, in May, the G20 Tourism Working Group held a meeting in occupied Kashmir, prompting the UN special rapporteur on minority issues to say that “the G20 is unwittingly providing a veneer of support to a facade of normalcy at a time when massive human rights violations” continued to escalate.

The HRW report also expressed concern over the persecution of minorities and dissenters in India by the Modi government. It said the Indian government undermined its aspirations for global leadership as a rights-respecting democracy during 2023 with its persistent policies and practices that discriminate and stigmatize religious and other minorities. It pointed out that the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party-led Modi government also arrested activists, journalists, opposition politicians, and other critics of the government on politically motivated criminal charges, including terrorism.

Meenakshi Ganguly, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the BJP government’s discriminatory and divisive policies have led to increased violence against minorities, creating a pervasive environment of fear and a chilling effect on government critics. “Instead of holding those responsible for abuses to account, the authorities chose to punish the victims, and persecuted anyone who questioned these actions,” she added.

The report said that the Indian authorities harassed journalists, activists, and critics through raids, allegations of financial irregularities, and use of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, which regulates foreign funding of nongovernmental organizations.

The HRW said in February, Indian tax officials raided the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai in an apparent reprisal for a two-part documentary that highlighted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat state in 2002 when he was chief minister. It said the Modi government blocked the BBC documentary in India in January, using emergency powers under the country’s Information Technology Rules.

The report said in July, Manipur police filed a case of sedition, criminal conspiracy, defamation, promoting enmity, and breach of peace against three women activists who were part of the National Federation of Indian Women’s fact-finding team. The team had described the ethnic clashes as a result of “state-sponsored violence” and called for a Supreme Court-monitored investigation.

The HRW said in September, Manipur police filed criminal cases against the Editors Guild of India after it published a report saying the state leadership had played a partisan role in the ethnic violence.

It said in October 2023, police raided the office of the news website NewsClick, which has been critical of the Modi government, and the homes of several of its journalists and writers on allegations that the website got illegal funds from China, a charge it denies. The police also raided the homes of activists and comedians in Delhi as part of coordinated raids at 30 locations. In Mumbai, the police raided the home of activist Teesta Setalvad, who has been repeatedly targeted for fighting for justice for the Muslim victims of the 2002 riots in Gujarat state and has written articles critical of the government for NewsClick.

The report pointed out that soon after the writer Arundhati Roy spoke out at a protest that followed the raids, authorities said they would prosecute her and a Kashmiri academic for a speech Roy had made in 2010. A case was also registered under the counterterrorism law, the UAPA, against them.

The HRW deplored that the Indian authorities continued to impose the largest number of internet shutdowns globally in 2022, violating Indian and international human rights standards. The shutdowns disproportionately hurt socially and economically marginalized communities by denying them access to free or subsidized food rations and livelihoods, which requires adequate internet access.

The report said on July 31, communal violence broke out in Nuh district in Haryana state during a Hindu procession and swiftly spread to several adjoining districts. “Following the violence, as part of a growing pattern, the authorities retaliated against Muslim residents by illegally demolishing hundreds of Muslim properties and detaining scores of Muslim boys and men. The demolitions led the Punjab and Haryana High Court to ask the BJP-led state government whether it was conducting “ethnic cleansing”,” It added.

The HRW report said “Over 200 people were killed, tens of thousands displaced, hundreds of homes and churches destroyed, and the internet shut down for months, after violence erupted in May in Manipur state between the majority Meitei and the minority Kuki Zo communities. BJP’s state chief minister, N. Biren Singh, fueled divisiveness by stigmatizing the Kuki, alleging their involvement in drug trafficking, and providing sanctuary to refugees from Myanmar, it maintained.

The rights organization pointed out that in August, the Indian Supreme Court said the state police had “lost control over the situation,” and ordered special teams to investigate the violence, including sexual violence. In September, over a dozen United Nations experts raised concerns over the ongoing violence and abuses in Manipur, saying the government’s response had been slow and inadequate, it added.

The report also said that the Indian government attempted to shield a BJP parliament member, Brij Bhushan Singh, after female athletes filed complaints of sexual abuse spanning a decade, when he was president of the Wrestling Federation of India. Indian forces’ personnel tackled and forcibly detained women wrestlers, including Olympic medalists, as they demanded justice and safety for female athletes, it said.

The report said India promoted the use of a digital public infrastructure to expand delivery of social and economic services. However, rampant internet shutdowns, lack of privacy and data protection, and uneven access among rural communities harmed those efforts, it said.

The HRW said under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s democracy has slid toward autocracy, with authorities targeting minorities, tightening repression, and dismantling independent institutions, including federal investigative agencies. Silence on the Indian government’s worsening rights record appears to have emboldened the Modi government to extend repressive tactics across borders, including to intimidate diaspora activists and academics or restrict their entry into
India, it said.

Referring to Modi government’s involvement in international terrorism, the report said in September, tensions escalated between India and Canada after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an investigation into “credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India” and the killing of a Canadian Sikh leader in Canada. And in November, the US authorities indicted a man for a failed plot with an Indian government official to assassinate a Sikh activist in the US.

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Disclaimer: HRW says India continued to restrict basic rights in IIOJK in 2023 - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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