Activists call for 'restoration of democracy' in Kashmir

In this file photo, a Kashmiri man sits in front of closed shops during a lockdown at Anchar Soura in Srinagar on Sept. 26, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 06 December 2019

Activists call for 'restoration of democracy' in Kashmir

  • Say 40,000 people have been detained so far
  • Indian government maintains the situation in Kashmir is normal

DELHI: As four months have passed since the special status of Jammu and Kashmir has been revoked, civil society activists from different parts of India called on Thursday for the “restoration of democracy” and an end to “human rights violations” in Kashmiri territory.
In a special press conference in New Delhi, the activists narrated their recent experiences in Jammu and Kashmir and how their pro-democracy march from Jammu to Srinagar was foiled by authorities.
“More than 50 activists started the ‘restoration of democracy’ march from Jammu to Srinagar on Nov. 26, but police did not allow us to go beyond Jammu and created lots of hurdle,” said Sandeep Pandey, a prominent social activist, internationally recognized for his work for the empowerment of marginalized communities.
“There were people from all walks of life in the march and they really wanted to see the situation in the valley. But only five managed to reach Srinagar,” he said.
“What we saw in Srinagar was only suffering and silence by force. Contrary to the claims by the government in Delhi, there is no normalcy in the valley. Shops open only for a few hours, only teachers are attending school, children on the streets feel suffocated in the heavy presence of security forces and Internet lockdown,” Pandey told Arab News.
On Dec. 5, four month have passed since Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which granted special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir, was repealed.
On Aug. 5, in a sudden move the the Indian government annulled the special status of India’s only Muslim-dominated state and bifurcated the region into two centrally administered union territories (UT) – Buddhist-dominated Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. A UT is a half-baked state where the elected government has limited authority and a New Delhi-appointed lieutenant governor (LG) enjoys overriding power.
The Indian government maintains the situation is normal.
On Nov. 20, Home Minister Amit Shah told the parliament “there is no curfew in the valley and the situation in the region is normal.” Internet networks would be restored when the local authorities decide to so keeping security in mind as “there are activities by Pakistan in Kashmir region,” Shah said.
On Nov. 30, the minister told a group of businessmen in Mumbai that “the situation in the valley is normal and industrialists should visit the state to see the real situation there.”
Activists from Kashmir and Delhi, however, have not witnessed normalcy in the region.
Bilal Khan, the president of Jammu and Kashmir-based Haq Insaf Party came all the way from Jammu to speak to the media in Delhi. “There is no outlet to express oneself in Srinagar and Jammu. Kashmir has become a graveyard of democracy,” he said.
“The press is not allowed freedom and politicians are not given liberty to interact with the people and media,” Khan told the Delhi press conference and added that the situation in Jammu is as bad as in Srinagar. “We cannot practice politics there also. This part of Kashmir has never seen such a huge presence of security forces as it is witnessing now”.
Jammu-based activist and president of Jammu and Kashmir Forum for Peace and Territorial Integrity of the State, I.D. KHajjuria, said that contrary to popular perception, people in Jammu were very unhappy about the abrogation of Article 370. “They have lost 70 to 80 percent of their businesses because of the clampdown in the valley for the last four months. Jammu has been heavily dependent on the valley for its business.”
He said that in Jammu, just like in the Kashmir Valley, people feared the entry of outsiders into their land as the State of Jammu and Kashmir has been stripped of its special status. “I don’t see the situation improving soon.”
Rajendran Narayanan, a Delhi-based activist who marched up to Srinagar said “the situation is so bad that people are being stopped by the security forces from interacting with activists like us.”
“I was almost arrested when I was interacting with an old man near Srinagar. The old man was so angry with the situation that he vented his anger, but the police came and stopped me and wanted to take my recorder. I somehow managed to sneak out.”
According to Narayanan, at least 40,000 people have been detained in what has been announced as “preventive measures,” and only those get released who get a bond signed by their local community expressing approval of the revocation of Article 370.
Arun Srivastva of the Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD) party, who participated in the march, said that what he witnessed “was a deep sense of fear and uncertainty among people.”
He said it was tragic that the BJP had abolished the special status in its majoritarian politics. “The failure of the Supreme Court to facilitate political discourse is also disturbing,” he said.

Journalist unions, civil society seek revocation of social media rules

Updated 20 min 20 sec ago

Journalist unions, civil society seek revocation of social media rules

  • Launch a nationwide movement against the new regulations to strengthen freedom of expression in Pakistan
  • Deny the impression that Internet is unregulated in the country

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), along with lawyers and civil society activists, declared the recently notified Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 “unacceptable” on Thursday, asking the government to revoke them immediately.

“The rules were approved by cabinet without any discussion or debate,” PFUJ Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said while addressing a joint news conference at the National Press Club Islamabad. “The clampdown of online content is the final extreme in a long series of restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom in Pakistan.”

He announced a plan of action, saying the PFUJ and its partner organizations had launched a countrywide protest against the enforcement of the rules. Other speakers at the gathering claimed that the new social media rules had posed a severe threat to freedom of expression, media independence, and Pakistan’s digital economy.

Harris Khalique, the secretary-general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told the gathering, “The HRCP believes that the rules issued by the federal cabinet are based on malicious intent. This is an unconstitutional and illegal step. These rules will violate the political, economic and cultural rights of Pakistani citizens. The rules should be de-notified immediately.”

Sadaf Khan, Co-founder of Media Matters for Democracy, said the claim being spread from official quarters that the Internet was unregulated in Pakistan was incorrect.

“We already have the anti-cybercrimes law to regulate online content as well as multiple laws for defamation and other online harms. These laws have been used quite regularly by the authorities,” she said. “The government must issue a clarification about the legal status of the new social media rules. We also demand that clarity should be provided about the consultation process being planned by the government.”

The federal cabinet had approved the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 in January, after which the ministry of information technology had sent the rules to be published in the official gazette.

The new regulations demand social media companies to open local offices, establish local database servers, remove content identified by the Pakistani authorities, and provide decrypted user data on the request of law-enforcement agencies.

The Asia Internet Coalition, whose members include Facebook, Google, and Twitter, has informed the government that the rules can “severely cripple” Pakistan’s digital economy, making it difficult for Internet companies to offer their services to Pakistani users and businesses.

The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have also condemned the social media rules.