Amnesty urges India to release Kashmir prisoners held without charge, trial amid coronavirus lockdown

Amnesty urges India to release Kashmir prisoners held without charge, trial amid coronavirus lockdown
India slammed for "abuse of power" during COVID-19 lockdown, as Amnesty International calls for the release of over a thousand in Kashmir arrested arbitrarily without documentation.
3 min read
01 April, 2020
Kashmir has seen a surge in arbitrary arrests since the Covid-19 outbreak [Getty files]
India’s government must release all detainees arrested arbitrarily in Kashmir and restore internet access, rights group Amnesty International said on Tuesday, in light of the coronavirus lockdown in the region.

Data gathered from 12 jails and sub-regions in Jammu and Kashmir showed over 1,200 people were detained without any charge or trial, Amnesty wrote in a statement. At least 34 of those jailed in these conditions were children, the statement said.

“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,” said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India, was quoted as saying.

In August 2019, India’s Government repealed an article of its constitution that granted special autonomy to the Kashmir region. India also cut internet access to Muslim-majority region for five months. During this time, New Delhi fortified the already heavily militarised territory with more troops and detained thousands of politicians and activists.

Since the 21-day lockdown – which applies to all of India – was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the rights watchdog has documented a rise in the number of cases of arbitrary detentions and the arrest of minors occuring in Kashmir.

Also read: Gory tales of torture in Indian-administered Kashmir

Verbal orders of detention were also issued by officials in India, allowing administrative detentions without keeping any record, according to Amnesty International.

Kumar condoned the police’s use of “excessive force” and weighed in on the arbitrary arrests in the wake of the new coronavirus. He called for swift action to safeguard human rights in Kashmir.

“Measures must be taken to protect people’s human rights in the region of Jammu & Kashmir and not further weaken them,” Kumar added.

The Legal Form for Kashmir, which is an international organisation that is outspoken on human rights violations in Kashmir, also voiced concerns over the coronavirus lockdown in the region.

Kashmir human rights lawyer, Nasir Qadri, took to twitter to call on the International Committee of the Red Cross to address the issue. 

"Dear @ICRC, India has illegally detained hundreds of #Kashmiri Political prisoner and lodged them with Criminals in different Jails of #India," Qadri said.

His call was tweeted in response to a video shared by the humanitarian organisation, which depicted Red Cross workers distributing boxes of protective equipment, which will be delivered to prisons in Congo. 

While the internet blackout ended in August, the rights watchdog claims restrictions on internet services also continue to this day.

India has recorded nearly 1,400 cases of coronavirus infection and 35 deaths due to virus.