Kashmir shuts to protest Indian crackdown against activists

Above, a paramilitary soldier patrols the streets of Srinagar before the security lockdown. (AFP)
Updated 28 February 2019

Kashmir shuts to protest Indian crackdown against activists

  • The main target of the crackdown are the Jama’at-e-Islami group that advocate self-determination for the Himalayan region
  • The tensions heightened after a suicide car bombing targeted a paramilitary convoy

NEW DELHI: The Kashmir Valley was brought to a standstill on Sunday, after separatists called for a shutdown to protest the treatment of political activists by Indian authorities.

On Friday night, security forces arrested several leading figures, including the chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, Yasin Malik, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Hamid Fayaz, and around 200 other members of the group. 

The region’s inspector general, Swayam Prakash Pani, told Arab News the situation remained “normal.”

The crackdown comes in the wake of a bomb attack on an Indian convoy on Feb. 14, which killed 40 paramilitaries. Up to 10,000 reinforcements have since been deployed to the troubled state.

Shah Faesal, a former government employee who resigned in protest at police aggression in Kashmir, described the situation as “terrible” in the buildup to the 2019 general election.

“Life has come to a grinding halt. It has become extremely dangerous here. We need a measured response to incidents like the other week. Putting the entire valley under arrest and detaining people who you don’t agree with is not the right way to deal with the situation,” he said.

“We were hoping that there would be dialogue. The stand by the central government has further worried people here. Troop reinforcement has added to the uncertainty, and people want to know why this war-like mobilization is happening. It adds to the environment of fear.” 

Altaf Thakur, though, of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, claimed the option for talks was no longer on the table.

“It is time to punish those who have been involved. Some have been arrested, and we don’t need such people in our midst. There is not a panicked situation in the Kashmir Valley, as is being reported. People have not supported the separatists,” he said. “Troop reinforcement is normal before elections to maintain order in the state.”

Kashmir-based human rights activist Khurram Parvez disagreed, and told Arab News: “The Kashmir Valley is in bad shape. In the last 48 hours there has been no confirmation from the government on how many people have been arrested, who has been arrested, or why they have been arrested.

“This ‘muscular’ policy is the only policy India has in Kashmir. The government seems not to care whether it will lead to further radicalization or more protests. For the government, the only thing that matters is to manage the upcoming general election.”

Hong Kong court rules ban on face masks unconstitutional

Updated 11 min 30 sec ago

Hong Kong court rules ban on face masks unconstitutional

  • Hong Kong’s High Court says law is ‘incompatible with the Basic Law’

HONG KONG: A government ban on demonstrators wearing face masks, aimed at helping to quell months of pro-democracy unrest in Hong Kong, is unconstitutional, the territory’s high court ruled Monday.

“The restrictions it imposes on fundamental rights ... go further than is reasonably necessary... and therefore fail to meet the proportionality test,” the court said, according to a press summary.

The ban on face-covering came into force in October, when the city’s unelected pro-Beijing leader invoked colonial-era legislation for the first time in more than 50 years.

The move was seen as a watershed legal moment for the city since its 1997 return by Britain to China — but has been largely symbolic.

Demonstrators — most of them wearing masks — have continued to clash with police, often violently, as they press their demands for greater democracy for Hong Kong, as well as an independent inquiry into alleged brutality by the increasingly unpopular police force.