From CNN: “India Detaining People without Charge in Kashmir”
India detains hundreds of people each year without charge or trial to “keep them out of circulation” in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, according to a new report released Monday by Amnesty International.
The human rights monitoring group documented how India’s Public Safety Act (PSA) is used to justify long-term detentions of people, even when there is insufficient evidence for trial.
The draconian act has come under repeated criticism from human rights groups who have expressed alarm over Kashmiris caught in the fight between Indian security forces and militant groups in the Himalayan state.
The Amnesty report estimated that between 8,000 and 20,000 people were detained in the past two decades; 322 of them were held between January and September of last year when a wave of unrest swept the region and people took to the streets in deadly anti-government protests.
“The Jammu and Kashmir authorities are using PSA detentions as a revolving door to keep people they can’t or won’t convict through proper legal channels locked up and out of the way,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director.
“Hundreds of people are being held each year on spurious grounds, with many exposed to higher risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.”
Among the detainees are political leaders and activists, suspected members or supporters of armed opposition groups, lawyers, journalists, and protesters, including children, Amnesty said. The report said that often, people are initially picked up for “unofficial” interrogation and have no access to a lawyer or their families.
Amnesty said the Indian government has relied on the safety act in dealing with a resurgence of street protests.
“Despite this apparent shift in the nature of the unrest, Jammu and Kashmir authorities continue to rely on the PSA rather than attempting to charge and try those suspected of committing criminal acts,” Zarifi said. “The PSA undermines the rule of law and reinforces deeply held perceptions that police and security forces are above the law.”
The state’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah denied that so many people had been detained under the act. He said 4,046 people were arrested in the protests. But, he said, 3,900 of them were released and only 28 had been detained. A senior police officer told CNN that about 250 people were detained under the PSA in the past year but some had been released.
The Indian state is divided into mostly Hindu Jammu and Muslim Kashmir, where many residents argue that the territory should have been a part of Pakistan when the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947. Polls have found a majority of Muslims in the state favor secession.
The Indian government blames Pakistan for furling an insurgency in Kashmir. Tens of thousands of Kashmiris have died in the bloodshed over the years.
Khurram Parvez, coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir coalition of civil societies, said the Public Safety Act gives the Indian government powers to arbitrarily detain detain a person for two years without trial, against India’s principles of justice.