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December 8, 2019

Bill on J&K introduced in US House of Reps

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December 8, 2019

WASHINGTON: US Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives urging India "to end the restrictions on communications and mass detentions in Jammu and Kashmir as swiftly as possible and preserve religious freedom for all residents."

The bill has mentioned that since 1989, Jammu and Kashmir has been the site of a 30-year conflict between the Indian government, local Kashmiris, and militants, that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, exacerbated by disenfranchisement of the local population and external state support for insurgency.

"On August 5, 2019, the Government of India cut all telephone service and internet access in Jammu and Kashmir, the 53rd time the Indian government restricted communication in Kashmir in 2019," the bill says, adding the Government of India has stated that communications restrictions are required to stop terrorists from communicating with one another.

The Government of India announced it had restored the landline phone service to Jammu and Kashmir on September 5, 2019, and partially restored cellphone service on October 14, 2019. "Whereas 60 percent of the 6,000,000 mobile subscribers in Jammu and Kashmir rely on prepaid cellphones, which remain inoperable for communication, and text messaging and mobile internet services remain suspended."

The bill further states that people across the United States maintain ties with family and friends in Jammu and Kashmir and have reported difficulty contacting their loved ones since the communications blockade was imposed on August 5, 2019.

"Whereas press accounts and human rights observers have documented that the communications restrictions derailed health services in Jammu and Kashmir, with patients reporting difficulty calling ambulances and hospitals, and physicians reporting difficulty accessing critical medicines for advanced stages of disease."

Several organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and independent reporters have documented detentions and harassment of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Indian government has barred senior United States government officials and foreign journalists from traveling to Jammu and Kashmir since August 5, 2019. While international human rights observers have documented the police’s use of excessive force against detained people and excessive and indiscriminate use of pellet shotguns, tear gas, and rubber bullets against protesters.

"Whereas data from the Government of India found that more than 3,800 people in Jammu and Kashmir were arrested between August 5 and September 6, 2019, 2,600 had been released from detention, and prominent political and business leaders remain in detention," the bill says, adding that the Jammu and Kashmir police have acknowledged that 144 children, as young as 9 years old, have been arrested.

Indian authorities have used the Public Safety Act to preventatively detain people for a broad range of activities that are vaguely defined and without charge for up to 2 years in some cases, including human rights defenders, journalists, political leaders, and people involved in protests.

India’s Public Safety Act violates Article 9(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by allowing authorities to not communicate grounds of detention for up to 10 days of detention, and also to withhold any information considered “to be against the public interest to disclose.”

It also mentioned that photographic evidence indicates that detained people have been required to sign surety bonds forbidding them from making statements or participating in political activities as a condition of their release; and that the State Department has reported that the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir remains dire, with insurgents and terrorists threatening the lives of civilians, armed forces, police, and government officials.

The bill also resolved that the House of Representatives recognises the dire security challenges faced by the government and India in Jammu and Kashmir and the continuing threat of state-supported cross-border terrorism.

It rejects arbitrary detention, use of excessive force against civilians, and suppression of peaceful expression of dissent as proportional responses to security challenges.

The bill urges the Indian government to ensure that any actions taken in pursuit of legitimate security priorities respect the human rights of all people and adhere to the international human rights law.

The bill urged the Indian government to lift the remaining restrictions on communication and to restore internet access across all of Jammu and Kashmir as swiftly as possible. As well as refrain from the use of threats and excessive force against detained people and peaceful protesters.

It further asks India to swiftly release arbitrarily detained people in Jammu and Kashmir, and refrain from conditioning the release of detained people on their willingness to sign bonds prohibiting any political activities and speeches.

It asks India to allow international human rights observers and journalists to access Jammu and Kashmir and operate freely throughout India, without threats; and condemns, at the highest levels, all religiously motivated violence, including that violence which targets against religious minorities.