Amid the growing threat of COVID-19 in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s government must end its abuses of power and immediately release all arbitrarily detained prisoners, an international human rights organization said on Tuesday.
“As Jammu and Kashmir region enters into the next phase of lockdown due to COVID-19, the government of India must immediately release all those arbitrarily detained, restore full internet access and actively pursue trust building measures with the people of the region,” read a statement by Amnesty International India.
The group said it had “documented the use of administrative detention on adults and minors often through verbal orders, prolonged communication blockade and absolute lack of transparency in the region.”
It said arbitrary detentions and arrest of minors had spiked since Aug. 5 last year, when New Delhi revoked the region’s special status and enforced a months-long lockdown.
According to its findings, there are 1,249 people, including at least 34 children, detained without any charges in 12 jails in the region. A further 251 prisoners, including 23 with severe health issues, are being held in harsh conditions in different jails in India.
“Most shockingly, Amnesty International India found that the executive magistrates in the region issued verbal orders of detentions under Section 107 and 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which also allows for administrative detention, without keeping any record,” read the statement.
Avinash Kumar, the executive director of Amnesty International India, said such actions were “in absolute contravention” to international law.
“Such orders disable the detainees from challenging their detention before the court. In the wake of COVID-19, where the police has been arbitrarily detaining people and using excessive force, such an abuse of power and complete lack of accountability cannot be continued,” he said.
He urged the Indian government to recognize the right of Kashmiris to live with dignity and be informed of the threats posed by COVID-19.
As of Tuesday, there were 55 confirmed coronavirus cases in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, with two deaths and two recoveries. Over 11,000 people have been put under observation.
The administration has placed strict restrictions on movement of people, sealing all land borders and suspending air traffic. Around 600 people have been charged for violating lockdown orders.