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Historical background

Kashmir has been claimed by both India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947. The 450-mile Line of Control separates India-controlled Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. China also controls part of the region’s land.

Article 370 revoked

In August 2019, shortly after winning re-election, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Article 370, which guaranteed a special status for the Indian-administered part of Kashmir. India then divided the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two new territories that are directly ruled from the federal capital, Delhi. The Indian Government said this was a long-overdue measure that would help to stabilise the situation by integrating the area fully into India. Jammu and Kashmir has been the site of a decades-old insurgency against Indian rule.

Security lockdown and internet shutdowns

At the same time as announcing the revocation of Article 370, India imposed a security lockdown and a media blackout. Human Rights Watch’s 2019 report on India summarised the measures first put in place by India:

On August 5, before revoking the state’s special autonomous status, the government imposed a security lockdown and deployed additional troops. Thousands of Kashmiris were detained without charge, including former chief ministers, political leaders, opposition activists, lawyers, and journalists. The internet and phones were shut down. The government said it was to prevent loss of life, but there were credible, serious allegations of beatings and torture by security forces.

By November, even though some restrictions were lifted, hundreds remained in detention and mobile phone services and internet access was still limited. The government blocked opposition politicians, foreign diplomats, and international journalists from independent visits to Kashmir.

Curfews were reimposed in August 2020 on the one year anniversary of the Article 370 revocation. The Human Rights Watch’s 2020 human rights report on India said that “hundreds of people remained detained without charge” in Jammu and Kashmir under Public Safety Act, which permits detention without trial for up to two years”.

New media policy introduced

In June 2020 , the Indian Government announced a new media policy in Jammu and Kashmir that gives the local government’s Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) the power to monitor media outlets and journalists for “misinformation, fake news, plagiarism and anti-national activities”.

The DIPR also will determine who is “empanelled,” or accredited, and will control allocations for government advertising. Local newspapers rely on revenue from government advertising to stay in business, and there are concerns that this power will lead newspapers to censor their output.

The Indian Government said the measures were needed to “thwart” attempts from across the border to disrupt peace and security in Kashmir. India has often accused Pakistan of aiding and abetting terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, a claim Pakistan denies.

Alleged abuses by Indian security forces

Human Rights Watch’s 2020 human rights report on India also stated that Indian security forces are given broad immunity from prosecution and had killed civilians in error:

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act continued to provide effective immunity from prosecution to security forces, even for serious human rights abuses. In July, security forces killed three people in Shopian district, claiming they were militants. However, in August, their families, who identified them from photographs of the killings circulated on social media, said they were laborers. In September, the army said that its inquiry had found prima facie evidence that its troops exceeded powers under the AFSPA and it would take disciplinary proceedings against those “answerable.”

The security forces also continued to use shotguns firing metal pellets to disperse crowds, despite evidence that they are inherently inaccurate and cause injuries indiscriminately, including to bystanders, violating India’s international obligations.

Internet connectivity restored

In early 2020 some basic broadband and limited wireless services (2G) were restored in some parts of the state, however, most social media platforms were still blocked, as well as peer-to-peer messaging services like WhatsApp, and internet service providers were be expected to install firewalls to prevent access to sites other than specific “white-listed” ones such as government websites. Restrictions on social media sites were removed in March 2020.

In February 2021, some 18 months after being introduced 4G internet services were reintroduced throughout Jammu and Kashmir.

The Indian Government said when the restrictions were put in place that the internet could be used to spread disinformation and allow militant groups to plan attacks.

Pakistan-administered Kashmir and human rights

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHR) released reports in 2018 and 2019 on human rights in both India and Pakistan- administered Kashmir.

The 2019 report said that the Interim Constitution of the Pakistan region of Azad Jammu and Kashmir “places several restrictions on anyone criticizing the region’s accession to Pakistan, in contravention of Pakistan’s commitments to uphold the rights to freedoms of expression and opinion, assembly and association”.

It also states:

Members of nationalist and pro-independence political parties claim that they regularly face threats, intimidation and even arrests for their political activities from local authorities or intelligence agencies. They said often threats are also directed at their family members including children.

Elections planned

In December 2020, municipal elections were held in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time under its new constitutional status. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a platform of seven Kashmiri critical of Delhi’s policies in the region and the removal of its autonomy, won the most seats. Though India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did well in its traditional stronghold in the Jammu region and was the single largest party.

In June 2021 the Indian Central Government said it was looking to organise local elections “soon”, after it had completed an exercise to redraw the boundaries of assembly seats.

UK Government position

Successive UK governments have said that Kashmir is a bilateral matter for peaceful resolution by India and Pakistan. In September 2019, Dominic Raab, the then Foreign Secretary, reiterated the UK’s position during a House of Commons debate on Kashmir: “The dispute between India and Pakistan in relation to Kashmir is fundamentally for them to resolve, as recognised in UN Security Council resolutions and the Simla agreement”.

The UK Government has regularly expressed concerns over human rights in the region. The Foreign Secretary was asked in a Parliamentary Question in May 2021 “what recent assessment he has made of the (a) political and (b) human rights situation in Kashmir”. Nigel Adams, the then Minister for Asia, responded on his behalf:

It is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution on Kashmir, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. We recognise that there are human rights concerns in both India-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. We encourage all states to ensure domestic laws are in line with international standards. Any allegation of human rights violation or abuse is deeply concerning and must be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently. We are in regular contact with the governments of India and Pakistan, with whom we discuss Kashmir.

While the 2019 Foreign Office human rights report made a brief mention of Kashmir in relation to restrictions on freedom of expression, there is no mention of Kashmir in the 2020 report published in August 2021.

Indian Government position

On 13 January after a Westminster Hall debate on Kashmir, the Indian High Commission released a statement saying that some participants used “false assertions”:

It was also noted that references to the Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, despite the volumes of authentic information available in the public domain – based on up to date and visible facts on the ground – ignored current ground reality and, instead chose to reflect false assertions of the kind promoted by a third country, such as unsubstantiated allegations of ‘genocide’, ‘rampant violence’ and ‘torture’.

The Indian High Commission gave this assessment in their statement of the situation in the region:

Since the administrative reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019, it is well on the path of good governance and accelerated development. All administrative measures taken by the Government of India in Jammu and Kashmir are entirely an internal matter of India.

Human Rights groups recent assessments

In February 2021, two United Nations rights experts: Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues and; Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, wrote they were concerned that India’s decision to end Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy and enact new laws saying these actions “could curtail the previous level of political participation of Muslim and other minorities in the country, as well as potentially discriminate against them in important matters including employment and land ownership”. 

Earlier this month Human Rights Watch wrote about police action against journalists in Jammu and Kashmir:

On September 8 the police in Jammu and Kashmir raided the homes of four Kashmiri journalists – Hilal Mir, Shah Abbas, Showkat Motta, and Azhar Qadri – and confiscated their phones and laptops. Mir reported that they also took his and his wife’s passports. The authorities summoned all four to a Srinagar police station for questioning and told them to return the next day. Journalists in Kashmir face increased harassment by the authorities, including arrest under terrorism charges, since the BJP government revoked the state’s autonomous constitutional status in August 2019.

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