Amnesty International India has launched a global campaign in a bid to highlight the human cost of the month-long lockdown in the Occupied Kashmir.
“The draconian communication blackout in [occupied] Kashmir is an outrageous protracted assault on the civil liberties of the people of Kashmir,” according to a press release by the human rights watchdog on Thursday.
“In response to this indefinite communication blackout, Amnesty International India has launched the campaign #LetKashmirSpeak on 5 September, 2019 – which marks a month of the communications blackout, to ask for immediate lifting of the lockdown,” stated Amnesty International India.
“While landline telephones have been announced to be restored, their obsoletion in the recent past will fall woefully short in facilitating communication for the 8 million people of Kashmir.”
On August 5, the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped Kashmiris of the constitutional rights they had for seven decades through a rushed presidential order. An indefinite curfew was imposed in occupied Kashmir and elected leaders were put under house arrest.
By repealing Article 370 of the constitution, people from the rest of India will now have the right to acquire property in Kashmir and settle there permanently. Kashmiris, as well as critics of India’s Hindu nationalist-led government, see the move as an attempt to dilute the demographics of Muslim-majority occupied Kashmir with Hindu settlers.
“The blackout has now been a month old and cannot be prolonged any further by the Indian government as it has grossly impacted the daily lives of Kashmiri people, their emotional and mental well-being, medical care, as well as their access to basic necessities and emergency services. It is tearing families apart,” said Aakar Patel, head of Amnesty International India.
“While the region of Jammu has begun to see easing of the lockdown in many districts, most of Kashmir still remains under a severe communications blackout. Depriving an entire population of their right to freedom of expression, opinion and movement for an indefinite period is akin to taking the region back to the dark ages,” said Patel.
“‘Naya Kashmir’ cannot be built without the Kashmiris. The country is yet to hear from Kashmir after a month of being repeatedly been told by the Indian government that all is normal. This is not normal. Let Kashmir speak.”
The statement said that while Amnesty International India acknowledges that the Indian government may have legitimate security concerns “which may merit reasonable restrictions on right to freedom of expression in certain circumstances”, it does not believe the current shutdown complies with requirement of necessity, proportionality and legality set out under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party.
“Instead, it deprives the entire population of Kashmir of their right to freedom of expression and opinion and access to crucial information, thus inflicting a form of collective punishment on the 8 million people of Kashmir. Lack of transparency on the criteria used to cut off all communication services and what mechanisms are available to challenge the sweeping restrictions puts India in a clear violation of its international obligations.”
The press release by the organisation noted “sketchy reports coming out of the region have highlighted unattended medical emergencies, mass arrests and detentions, children and youth being picked up in the middle of the night, torture of civilians, indiscriminate use of tear gas, rubber bullets and pellet guns at protestors”.