Parties, rights groups criticize crackdown in disputed Kashmir

Parties, rights groups criticize crackdown in disputed Kashmir
Pro-India political parties in Kashmir on Friday accused New Delhi of “infringement” of their fundamental rights, days after the introduction of controversial land laws in the region. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 31 October 2020

Parties, rights groups criticize crackdown in disputed Kashmir

Parties, rights groups criticize crackdown in disputed Kashmir
  • New regulation, which allows non-Kashmiris can buy land in Kashmir, is seen as an attempt to dilute the Muslim-majority character of the region
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) on called raids on rights groups an attempt to ‘to crush peaceful criticism and calls for accountability’

NEW DELHI: Pro-India political parties in Kashmir on Friday accused New Delhi of “infringement” of their fundamental rights, days after the introduction of controversial land laws in the region.

The passage of the new regulation, under which non-Kashmiris can buy land in Kashmir, was immediately followed by counterterrorism raids on politicians and activists.

On Friday, the local administration prevented Farooq Abdullah, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and senior leader of the region’s oldest party, National Conference (NC), from offering prayers at Srinagar’s historic Hazratbal shrine on the occasion of Mawlid Al-Nabi, the observance of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

“J&K administration has blocked the residence of Party President Dr. Farooq Abdullah and stopped him from offering prayers at Dargah Hazratbal. The NC condemns this infringement of fundamental right to pray, especially on the auspicious occasion of Milad Un Nabi,” the NC said in a tweet.

Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti said that preventing Abdullah from offering prayers at the shrine “exposed” the Indian government’s “deep paranoia and their iron fist approach” toward Kashmir. 

“It’s a gross violation of our rights and is highly condemnable,” she tweeted.

On Thursday, the government sealed the PDP office.

The PDP accuses the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of trying to “silence any voices that speak up” against its “unilateral actions” in Kashmir, PDP spokesman Naeem Akhtar told Arab News.

“Dissent has been criminalized and voices muzzled as part of the project to take over whatever this state has, land and resources,” he said.

The closure of the PDP office followed Wednesday raids by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) on several NGOs which it accused of carrying out and raising funds for “secessionist and separatist activities” Kashmir.

Praveena Ahanger of the Srinagar-based Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), one of the seven NGOs that were raided by NIA, said it is a “clear case of a reprisal and crackdown on the human rights defenders in Kashmir.”

Zafarul Islam Khan, the former head of the Delhi Minority Commission, said that the premises of his NGO Charity Alliance in Delhi were also raided by NIA.

He said that according to the agency’s search order his group was “funding terror organizations in Kashmir.”

It is a “Himalayan lie,” he said. “They are trying to implicate me for my work in the Delhi Minority Commission and for my reports on Delhi religious violence in which the names of the ruling BJP leaders have cropped up.”

International human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday called the raids an attempt “to silence peaceful dissenters, human rights activists, and journalists.”

“India faces serious security challenges, but instead of addressing the problems in a rights-respecting manner, the authorities appear determined to crush peaceful criticism and calls for accountability,” HRW South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement.

Crackdowns on Kashmiri leaders and rights activists have escalated since August 2019 when New Delhi scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, which gave Kashmiris limited autonomy and protected their domicile and employment rights. People in the region fear the new land laws are aimed at diluting the Muslim-majority character of the region.

“Land in Kashmir is the biggest resource which is now being offered to outsiders as part of demographic projects. The assault is on the Muslim majority character of the region. Everything else is a step to achieve that,” PDP’s Akhatar said.

Political experts say that altering the region’s demography was the main concept behind the revocation of Kashmir’s special status.

“The whole idea of revoking Article 370 was to alter the demography of Kashmir,” Prof. Sheikh Showkat Hussain of Srinagar-based Kashmir University said. “People are angry in Kashmir and it might spill over on the streets any day.”

 But Srinagar-based BJP leader Dr. Hina Bhat discounts the possibility.

“I don’t think people are angry. Those who are protesting have lost all credibility. The change in land law will not force people to sell their lands to outsiders,” she said.

Commenting on the killing of three BJP workers in Kulgam area of Kashmir on Thursday, Bhat said that “militants don’t want the region to progress.”

“The killings of our party men will not deter us from doing good work in Kashmir.”


Moscow starts mass COVID-19 vaccination with its Sputnik V shot

Updated 44 min 26 sec ago

Moscow starts mass COVID-19 vaccination with its Sputnik V shot

Moscow starts mass COVID-19 vaccination with its Sputnik V shot
  • The task force said the Russian-made vaccine would first be made available to doctors and other medical workers, teachers and social workers
  • Moscow, the epicenter of Russia’s coronavirus outbreak, registered 7,993 new cases overnight

MOSCOW: Moscow began distributing the Sputnik V COVID-19 shot via 70 clinics on Saturday, marking Russia’s first mass vaccination against the disease, the city’s coronavirus task force said.
The task force said the Russian-made vaccine would first be made available to doctors and other medical workers, teachers and social workers because they ran the highest risk of exposure to the disease.
“You are working at an educational institution and have top-priority for the COVID-19 vaccine, free of charge,” read a phone text message received by one Muscovite, an elementary school teacher, early on Saturday and seen by Reuters.
Moscow, the epicenter of Russia’s coronavirus outbreak, registered 7,993 new cases overnight, up from 6,868 a day before and well above the daily tallies of around 700 seen in early September.
“Over the first five hours, 5,000 people signed up for the jab — teachers, doctors, social workers, those who are today risking their health and lives the most,” Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote on his personal website on Friday.
The age for those receiving shots is capped at 60. People with certain underlying health conditions, pregnant women and those who have had a respiratory illness for the past two weeks are barred from vaccination.
Russia has developed two COVID-19 vaccines, Sputnik V which is backed by the Russian Direct Investment Fund and another developed by Siberia’s Vector Institute, with final trials for the both yet to be completed.
Scientists have raised concerns about the speed at which Russia has worked, giving the regulatory go-ahead for its vaccines and launching mass vaccinations before full trials to test its safety and efficacy had been completed.
The Sputnik V vaccine is administered in two injections, with the second dose is expected to be given 21 days after the first.
Moscow closed down all public places including parks and cafes, with exception for delivery, in late March, with police patrolling the streets looking for whose violating the rules. Restrictions were eased from mid-June, however.
Russia as a whole reported 28,782 new infections on Saturday, its highest daily tally, pushing the national total to 2,431,731, the fourth-highest in the world.
In October, certain restrictions such as remote learning for some secondary school children and a 30% limit on the number of workers allowed in offices were introduced again.