Repeal Public Safety Act in J&K, says Amnesty
Humans rights watchdog adds it acknowledges and recognises right of forces to protect Indians
IN its fresh report on Jammu and Kashmir, human rights watchdog Amnesty International has said the state government has detained nearly 20,000 people in the past two decades under what it described as the ‘lawless’ Public Safety Act (PSA).
Amnesty International has also asked the state government to repeal the PSA and end what it described as a ‘system of administrative detention’. “Hundreds of people are detained each year on spurious grounds without charge or trial. In 2010 alone, about 322 people were reportedly held from January to September,” says the Amnesty report A ‘Lawless Law’: Detentions under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act.
The report on detentions under the PSA says the detainees are held without charge or trial to ‘keep them out of circulation’ and are often exposed to higher risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.
“Authorities in J&K are using PSA detentions as a revolving door to keep people they can’t or won’t convict through proper legal channels locked up and out of the way,” said Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director Sam Zarifi.
He said the detainees include political leaders and activists, suspected members or supporters of armed opposition groups, lawyers, journalists and protesters, including children.
“Often,” he said, “they are initially picked up for ‘unofficial’ interrogation, during which time they have no access to a lawyer or their families,” he added. Amnesty said over the past 10 years there has been a marked decrease in the overall numbers of members of armed groups operating in the state and in the last five years, there has been a resurgence of street protests.
“Despite these apparent shifts in the nature of the unrest, J&K authorities continue to rely on the PSA rather than attempting to charge and try those suspected of committing criminal acts,” said Zarifi. He added the Act undermines the rule of law and reinforces deeply held perceptions that the police and the security forces are above the law.
Amnesty said its research shows how the implementation of the PSA is often arbitrary and abusive, with many of those being held having committed no recognisably criminal acts. This despite the Supreme Court of India having described administrative detention, including the PSA, as a ‘lawless law’, Amnesty said. It criticised the state government for ‘consistently thwarting’ the High Court orders for the release of improperly detained individuals by issuing successive detention orders.
The report says many detainees are trapped in a cycle of detention and remain, in the words of one high-ranking JK official, ‘out of circulation’.
Under the PSA one can face up to two years in detention. The PSA provides immunity from prosecution to officials operating under it. “Those being held have no access to legal representation and cannot challenge their detention in a meaningful way,” said Zarifi. “Once released, they cannot seek redress or compensation for the wrongful detention they have endured and virtually never receive justice for the torture and ill-treatment.”
Amnesty said it acknowledges the right, indeed the duty, of the Indian authorities to defend and protect their population from violence. “However, this must be done while respecting the human rights of all concerned and abiding by international law. The use of administrative detention doesn’t conform to international human rights legal obligations and agreements that the Indian government is a party to,” said Zarifi. “The Indian government must ensure that the J&K authorities repeal the PSA and end the odious system of administration detention.”
Amnesty has called on New Delhi to invite and support visits of UN officials, including the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
A two-member team of Amnesty International was granted permission to visit Jammu and Kashmir in May 2010 after a long time. The members were Bikram Jeet Batra and Ramesh Gopala Krishnan. They are researchers in the South Asian Chapter of Amnesty and had met several mainstream and pro-independence leaders during their six-day visit ‘to assess the human rights situation in the Valley’.
Baba Umar is a Correspondent with Tehelka.