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Amnesty International Launches Global Campaign #LetKashmirSpeak

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Amnesty International India launched a global campaign on Thursday, highlighting the human cost of the lockdown as the communication blackout in Jammu and Kashmir continues.

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“The blackout has now been a month old and cannot be prolonged any further by the Indian government as it has grossly impacted the daily lives of Kashmiri people, their emotional and mental well-being, medical care, as well as their access to basic necessities and emergency services. It is tearing families apart,” said Aakar Patel, head of Amnesty International India.

In response to this indefinite communication blackout, the global human rights group launched the campaign #LetKashmirSpeak on September 5 – which marks a month of the communications blackout, to ask for an immediate lifting of the lockdown.

“While the region of Jammu has begun to see [an] easing of the lockdown in many districts, most of Kashmir still remains under a severe communications blackout. Depriving an entire population of their right to freedom of expression, opinion and movement for an indefinite period is akin to taking the region back to the dark ages. ‘Naya Kashmir’ cannot be built without the Kashmiris.

The country is yet to hear from Kashmir after a month of being repeatedly been told by the Indian government that all is normal. This is not normal. Let Kashmir speak,” said Patel.

The Amnesty International India could not believe the current Kashmir shutdown complies with [the] requirement of necessity, proportionality and legality set out under Article-19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party.

Instead, it added, the shutdown deprived the Kashmiris of their right to freedom of expression and opinion and access to crucial information, thus inflicting a form of collective punishment on the 8 million people of IOK.

Sketchy reports coming out of the region highlighted unattended medical emergencies, mass arrests and detentions, children and youth being picked up in the middle of the night, torture of civilians, indiscriminate use of tear gas, rubber bullets and pellet guns at protestors, said the human rights group.

The Amnesty International India said families were unable to contact each other and ensure their wellbeing – as many young and aged remain locked in their homes.

According to the group, the attempts to restrict the freedom of [the] press, like in the case of journalist and author Gowhar Geelani who was arbitrarily stopped at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi from boarding his flight to Germany, further compounded the effect of the communication blackout.

At least three senior Kashmiri journalists were asked to vacate government accommodations as soon as possible, which is ‘nothing but harassment aimed at coercing journalists to toe a particular line’, read a recent statement by the Kashmir Press Club.

Indian attempts to create a public opinion of ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir while curbing the freedom of independent press usurped the voice of the people, added the Amnesty International India.

This excessive censure has not only affected the public’s right to know and threatened basic freedom of expression norms but also put the lives of journalists, health practitioners and service providers at risk, increasing their chances of being harassed, intimidated and detained in connection with their work.

“Given the chronic impunity for abuses committed by security forces in the past in Kashmir and a lack of unconditional and unconstrained access to the news from the valley, the situation calls for lifting of the communications blackout without any further delay and to listen and engage with the people of Kashmir. This is no more a clampdown on just the communication systems of Kashmir, but a clampdown on the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris,” said Patel.

This story originally appeared on the Amnesty International India.

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