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September 22, 2006

HRW alleges abuses in AJK Tariq Azim rejects report

September 22, 2006

ISLAMABAD: A US-based human rights watchdog on Thursday expressed concern over human rights abuses in Azad Kashmir and urged the international community to pressure Islamabad to end the violations.

Human Rights Watch released a 71-page report entitled “With Friends Like These: Human Rights Violations in Azad Kashmir,” which accused Pakistan’s military of routinely torturing Kashmiri political activists and giving more freedoms to outlawed militants.

Brad Adams, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch, alleged Pakistani authorities actively suppress Kashmiris seeking an independent state separate from both Pakistan and India. “There is an environment of political repression,” Adams said during a press conference in Islamabad. “Those who are in favour of independence are prosecuted.”

Adams highlighted a law under which only those who support Kashmir’s union with Pakistan can contest elections for a regional parliament. The rights group also alleged that torture is routinely used in both Pakistan and Azad Kashmir. “Human Rights Watch has documented incidents of torture by the intelligence services and others acting at the army’s behest, but knows of no cases in which members of military and paramilitary security and intelligence agencies have been prosecuted or even disciplined for acts of torture or mistreatment,” the group said in a statement.

Minister of State for Information Tariq Azim rejected the report and said Azad Kashmir is free of human rights violations. “This report shows that the people who wrote it had lack of knowledge, and unfortunately they painted a wrong and misleading picture about the human rights situation in Azad Kashmir,” Azim told The Associated Press.

Adams noted that the human rights situation was also bad on the Indian side of Kashmir. “The extent and the severity of the human rights situation on the Indian side is much, much, much greater.

But, we do hold very

strongly to the position that any violations anywhere are important, they should be documented and they should be addressed,” he said, adding “We are not saying that the problem is rampant (in Azad Kashmir).”

“We say that the problem needs to be addressed.” The Human Rights Watch report followed a recent trip Adams made to Srinagar, where he accused New Delhi and militants of killing civilians there.

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