Taking a note of the press freedom hitting lows in Jammu and Kashmir (J-K), the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir asked the government to withdraw the case against The Kashmir Walla for its reporting.
The independent body, co-chaired by former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur, suggested the government to ensure no such cases that are “clearly intended to stifle the reports adverse to the government” are filed.
The Kashmir Walla reporter and editor were booked under criminal charges by the police, following a complaint by the army, over its reporting. “The story was an honest reportage of events, the petition said, published after investigation,” the Forum said in its report titled ‘Two Years of Lockdown’ that highlighted the violation of human rights in J-K after the August 2019 clampdown.
The report flags a list of rights that continue to be violated in the region, including civilian security; children, women and health; land, demography and identity rights; industry and employment rights and the freedom of media, speech and information.
Other than Justice Lokur, the Forum consists of Ramchandra Guha, a prominent Indian historian and writer and former Chief Justices of various high courts, former National Secretary-General of the National Human Rights Commission and former chairperson of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, former chief secretaries of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir as members.
The report relies primarily on information collected between 1 February 2021 and 23 July 2021 through various newspapers, government sources, and information garnered through legal petitions.
As per the forum, “the local media has been one of the worst sufferers.” Journalists have been harassed, assaulted and charged under the UAPA, the forum noted in its report.
The report noted that amidst the six-month long clampdown and communication blackout that was only replaced by pandemic-related lockdown, “the union government took a series of deeply controversial steps that invalidated state’s residency laws and privileges and denied legal rights to habeas corpus, bails and speedy trial.”
It criticized the courts as they continued to “ignore habeas corpus and freedom of speech petitions”. “Curfews were routinely extended, the internet was partially restored and snapped every time the army conducted counter-insurgency operations and new media policies further unfettered the local media,” the report noted.
It noted that the schools and colleges have functioned for barely 250 days between August 2019 and July 2021and the security situation has not improved, instead “it has worsened.”
It recommends civil and criminal action against personnel of police, armed forces and paramilitary forces found guilty of violation of human rights, especially with regard to the attack on journalists. It further recommends that new media policies must be rolled back including police checks and raids on media outlets.
It also recommended that investigations must be carried out on the allegations that there are twenty-five Kashmiris on the leaked Pegasus spyware list.