On 28 October and 29 October, the National Investigation Agency conducted searches at several locations in Jammu and Kashmir in connection with a case related to the funding of “secessionist and separatist activities.” Among those subjected to the raids was Khurram Parvez, the programme coordinator of the civil-society group Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.
Parvez has long been a vocal critic of the ruling government, and was arrested for two and a half months in 2016. Two days before his arrest, the Indian immigration authorities had refused to let Parvez board a flight to Geneva, where he was scheduled to address the United Nations Human Rights Council about India’s human-rights record. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court had quashed his detention as “illegal.”
The JKCCS has published several reports on human rights violations in Kashmir in the past. The following is an extract from its latest report, titled “Kashmir’s Internet Siege,” on mass detentions and the justice system amid internet restrictions post the abrogation of the erstwhile state’s special status on 5 August 2019.
In September 2019, an all-woman fact-finding team from India visited Kashmir and reported that in the run-up to 5 August, and in the weeks immediately after, an estimated 13,000 Kashmiris, many of them teenagers, were picked up from their homes and arbitrarily detained by police and armed forces, often in midnight raids. There was frequently no record of their arrest, and authorities remained tight-lipped about the numbers taken into custody as well as the legal basis for their detentions. J&K government spokesman Rohit Kansal could only confirm that more than hundred local politicians, activists and academics were detained in the first few days after the lockdown began and said there was “no centralised figure” for the total number of people detained. The detenus included three former chief ministers of J&K State: Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. On 20 November 2019, Parliament was informed by the Government of India that “5,161 persons were detained since August 5th out of whom 609 were [still] under detention while rest were released.” There was no official statement on how many were booked under the Public Safety Act, 1978 (PSA) a widely criticised preventive detention law that permits imprisonment without charges or trial. Data obtained by JKCCS , showed that 662 fresh PSA detentions were registered in 2019, two-thirds of them after 5 August 2019.
“Most of the people arrested were from poor families and did not know what they had to do once their relative was arrested,” Habeel Iqbal, a lawyer practicing at the Shopian District Court told researchers from JKCCS about those arrested after 5 August 2019. “A key document for those detained under the PSA is the Detention Order containing the charges, and for it to be challenged in court, it has to first be accessed from the district commissioner’s office. Contacting a lawyer was impossible amidst the lockdown, especially for those living in rural areas, and in the absence of public transport so was going to Srinagar to find legal representation,” Iqbal added.
The mass incommunicado detentions of children and young adults, the absence of access to news and information about their names, locations or numbers, combined with the lack of means to contact lawyers or judicial or law enforcement officials, created widespread panic. In Kashmir, this has a particular edge given the decades-long history of systemic enforced disappearances, and torture and custodial killings. Despite the shutdown, accounts of ill treatment and torture of detainees circulated by word of mouth, further heightening fears and anxiety. A crucial safeguard against violations of prisoners’ rights, which are routinely flouted with impunity in Kashmir, are the rules regarding the physical production of under-trials and detainees before a Magistrate twenty-four hours after an arrest. Because of the restrictions on mobility, absence of court staff and court closures, these too were temporarily suspended, Kashmir Life reported.
In a report submitted to the Indian Supreme Court, which was hearing a constitutional petition on child rights, the Juvenile Justice Committee of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court submitted (on the basis of a police report) that as many as 144 children were taken into police custody, including 86 into “preventive” custody, in violation of juvenile justice and criminal procedure laws. Some of the children in question were as young as nine years old. Despite this admission, the police report questioned “why reports from foreign media and digital media networks carried stories of allegations of arrest and torture of children which were not there in local media.” The Juvenile Justice Committee was asked to file a fresh report by the Supreme Court. The petition was eventually dismissed by the Supreme Court, stating that they were satisfied that there were no instances of illegal detentions of minors.