Top US Diplomat Raises Concern Over ‘HR Abuses, Detention of Journalists’ in Kashmir
“We have not seen the holding of Legislative Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir. We have not seen free movement of journalists. We’ve seen the detention in fact of some prominent journalists in the Kashmir valley.”
SRINAGAR — The new Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, Donald Lu, testified before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, on a wide range of aspects of the India-US relationship. In over an hour, Lu discussed India’s relationship not just with the US, but also Russia, China, and its Indo-Pacific neighborhood.
He said there was “growing convergence” in the relationship, while also expressing concerns over human rights in India.
Lu said the relationship was one of the defining partnerships that would determine the security of Asia, the US and the world. He said that the US was concerned about human rights challenges, including the lack of State Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir and reports of ongoing human rights abuses and detention of prominent journalists.
“We have not seen the holding of Legislative Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir. We have not seen a free movement of journalists. We’ve seen the detention in fact of some prominent journalists in the Kashmir valley,” he said while answering Senator Murphy’s question about Kashmir being one of the most heavily militarised places in the world.
The elections to the assembly in Jammu and Kashmir have not been held since the erstwhile state was downgraded into two federally run union territories and the special status was abrogated.
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The journalists in the region have been accusing the authorities of harassment and coercion. At least three journalists are under detention including Aasif Sultan, Sajad Gul and Fahad Shah. Aasif Sultan, a local journalist, is under detention since August 2018 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA, a stringent anti-terror law. Sultan worked as an assistant editor for a Srinagar-based English magazine.
Another journalist Sajad Gul was arrested on January 5 from his home and then booked under Public Safety Act, a law termed “lawless” by Amnesty International.
Fahad Shah, editor of an online and weekly print of The Kashmir Walla, was arrested by police on February 5. Fahad was arrested for glorifying the “terrorist activities” and causing a dent in the image of law enforcing agencies besides causing ill-will & disaffection against the country.
Talking about the restoration of ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir—after the abrogation of Article 370 and almost a four-month-long lockdown—Lu mentioned that lately there have been numerous visits by several Cabinet ministers to Kashmir and 4G internet services have also been restored.
“We do see the Indian government taking some steps to restore normalcy. Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) had an outreach to a range of Kashmiri Indian politicians.”
India’s discrimination against its Muslim minority was also raised, to which Lu replied, “Across the country, we are closely monitoring reports of discrimination against the Muslim communities and other religious minority groups.”
While talking about India’s claims on cross-border infiltration, Lu said the cross-border insurgency has really gone down over two years.
“India continues to report infiltration by militants into Jammu and Kashmir, although rates of infiltration have reduced markedly over the past two years. Since the 2019 Pulwama attack which killed 40 Indian security officials and under pressure from the international community, Pakistan has taken positive steps to address cross-border terrorism.”
He added that he has been in meetings with Pakistan Army Chief General Bajwa in Pakistan in which they have taken credit for closing off their border for militant groups. “Pakistan has sealed the border in a way that we haven’t seen before,” he said.
US Senator Murphy also raised a question about Narendra Modi’s alleged use of NSO spyware, Pegasus, to win elections against his rival Rahul Gandhi.
Senator Shaheen expressed her disappointment about India’s stance at the UN about Russia Ukraine war. She said that she had hoped that India being one of the largest democracies would side with the rest of the world’s democracies in support of Ukraine.
“I was really disappointed to see India abstain and sit on the sidelines at the UN. Rather than coming forward in support of Ukraine as the rest of the world’s democracies did.”
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Aaliya Shalla is a trainee staff writer at the Mountain Ink. She is a pass out of Multimedia & Mass Communication from the Govt. Degree College, Baramulla.