Kashmir Indepth

Amnesty Int’l demands restoration of 4-G, release of prisoners

Srinagar, Mar 31 : Amnesty International India-chapter on Tuesday urged the Indian government to immediately restore high-speed 4G internet service and release all Kashmiri detainees in view of Coronavirus.

According to wire service— Amnesty International India in a statement said as Jammu and Kashmir enters the next phase of lockdown this time due to COVID-19, the Government of India must immediately release all those arbitrarily detained, restore full internet access and actively pursue trust-building measures with the people of the territory.

After interviewing over a dozen detainees, journalists, lawyers and businesspersons and obtaining information through 255 Right to Information applications and communications to government departments in Jammu and Kashmir, the organisation has documented the use of administrative detention on adults and minors often through verbal orders, prolonged communication blockade and absolute lack of transparency in the region,” the statement said.

“A public health emergency is not an opportunity to bypass accountability. Continuing use of unlawful and arbitrary detention along with limited internet connectivity and medical facilities only add to the panic, fear and anxiety caused by COVID-19. The people of Jammu & Kashmir are entitled to live with dignity and be informed of the threats that COVID-19 pose to their health. Measures must be taken to protect people’s human rights in the region of Jammu and Kashmir and not further weaken them,” said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.

He said international human rights law requires states to ensure all individuals deprived of their liberty are informed, in a language they understand, in writing, of the reasons for their detention and of their right to prompt and regular access to counsel. “In absolute contravention to international human rights law, the executive magistrates passed verbal orders of detention. Such orders disable the detainees from challenging their detention before the court. In the wake of COVID-19, where the police has been arbitrarily detaining people and using excessive force, such an abuse of power and complete lack of accountability cannot be continued,” he said.

The AI statement said, on 29 March 2020, in line with the recent judgment of the Supreme Court of India to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, the authorities in Kashmir constituted a High Powered Committee to release prisoners on interim bail or parole. “It (judgment) further stated that factors such as the nature and severity of the offence and the duration of the sentence must be considered for ordering the release of a prisoner. Amnesty International India urges the Government of India to also include those who are currently in administrative detention, particularly booked under PSA and Section 107, 109 and 151 of the CrPC in its criteria. It also calls on the government to immediately and unconditionally release all persons deprived of their freedom solely for peaceful enjoyment of their rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, belief or equality and non-discrimination as they should not have been imprisoned in the first place,” said the statement.

Avinash Kumar said building trust with people is essential in fighting an unprecedented pandemic. “There are limited medical facilities available in Jammu & Kashmir and the numbers of positive cases of COVID-19 have already increased to 49 in the region. While the Government of India imposes travel restrictions and quarantines, it must prioritize human rights and refrain from abusing its power in this time of crisis. It must release all prisoners arbitrarily detained with special focus on older prisoners and children or those with serious medical conditions. It must also grant protection to all people in detention and provide access to healthcare without discrimination. The government must also immediately restore full access to internet services in the region. End to the COVID-19 pandemic in Jammu & Kashmir cannot come without the solidarity of all its people,” he added.

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