Concern over detentions, new media policy criticised
UN high commissioner for human rights Michele Bachelet welcomed the release of some political leadership and limited internet restoration in two Kashmir districts, but expressed concern that many still remained behind bars and called for the full reversal of the communication blockade in Jammu and Kashmir.
At the start of the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on Monday, Bachelet gave a “Global Human Rights Update” on the situation across the world, from China to Sri Lanka, Venezuela to the US.
In her section on India, Bachelet mentioned that in the last one year in Jammu and Kashmir, “incidents of military and police violence against civilians continue, including use of pellet guns, as well as incidents related to militancy”.
Kashmir and other human rights issue in India had also been part of Bachelet’s updates in previous sessions of the UNHRC.
She observed that changes in the constitutional status and domicile rules of J&K have generated “deep anxiety”. The new media policy unveiled by the J&K administration have also constricted the space for criticism, she noted. “…the space for political debate and public participation continues to be severely restricted, particularly since new media rules have prohibited vaguely defined ‘anti-national’ reporting,” she noted.
During the changes in Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional status in August 2019, most of the mainstream politicians were taken into custody. Some of the big names, like former chief ministers Omar and Farooq Abdullah have been released, but several, including Mehbooba Mufti, are still in detention.
“While I welcome the release of some political and community leaders, hundreds of people remain in arbitrary detention, with many habeas corpus petitions still pending – including those of many of Jammu and Kashmir’s political leaders,” stated Bachelet.
On the recent tentative loosening of the restriction on the Internet in Kashmir, Bachelet said, “I welcome the initiatives to extend services to remote areas, and the recent conditional restoration of full Internet connectivity in two districts – which should be applied promptly to the rest of Jammu and Kashmir.”
She also commented critically on the situation in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, noting that residents of POK “also have limited Internet access, creating difficulties in accessing education and other vital services”.
“I remain concerned about ongoing restrictions to the rights to freedom of expression and association,” Bachelet added.
The UN human rights chief stated that her office was “committed to continuing its engagement with both India and Pakistan, to uphold the rights of the Kashmiri people – which is the best way to prevent further tensions and conflict”.
There has been no response from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs so far.
The Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted Bachelet’s statement on Jammu and Kashmir, but did not mention her views on PoK.