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Amnesty International

Human rights situation in India in 2019

In 2019, the Indian government revoked the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and launched extensive repression measures by arresting opposition leaders and activists, denying them procedural guarantees and preventing them from having access to communications and utilities. Nearly two million people in India were at risk of statelessness from arbitrary and discriminatory practices. Human rights defenders have faced arbitrary arrest, detention and prosecution in order to silence them, and freedom of expression has been restricted by draconian laws. Millions of indigenous families living in forested areas were at risk of forced evictions. Women were not adequately protected from sexual and domestic violence, harassment and discrimination. There have been serious failures to prosecute murders and other attacks perpetrated by angry crowds and vigilante groups against hundreds of people because of their religious, ethnic, caste, or gender identity.

Jammu and Kashmir

In August, the government lifted the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, guaranteed in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, and split the state into two union territories. Before and after that, crackdown on civil liberties, increased militarization, a breakdown in communications and the imprisonment of important politicians such as Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti took place across the region. Hundreds of other politicians and activists were also arrested under various laws to silence critical voices. There was no official information on the number of people detained, whether they had access to legal counsel and family members, or where and on what charges they were being held.

Government restrictions prevented journalists and activists from independently documenting and reporting on the situation, including alleged human rights violations. Access to emergency services, health care, education and other care services was severely restricted. The United Nations human rights experts, including the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Expression, the Special Rapporteur on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the Task Force on Enforced Disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Assembly and Organization and the The special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions described the practice as "a form of collective punishment".

While numerous communication services such as telephone, cellular communications and SMS were restored, the Internet remained switched off. The Kashmir Valley recorded half of all internet shutdowns in India, the country with the highest number of Internet shutdowns in the world.

Prior to August 2019, Kashmiri men and women across the country faced targeted attacks, harassment and arbitrary arrests after 42 security forces were killed in a suicide bombing in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir in February of that year. In the northern states, especially in Uttarakhand, Haryana and Bihar, Kashmiri students and traders were beaten, threatened and intimidated by Hindu nationalist groups, so that many students were forced to leave the university.

In June 2019, authorities denied Amnesty International India permission to hold an information session on the abuse of the draconian Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act in Srinagar, the capital of the region, claiming the "ruling Legal and regulatory situation ”as the reason.

Discrimination

In August 2019, the Assam authorities published a national register of citizens. Almost two million people who are not included in the register are at risk of statelessness. The only legal remedy available to them was the special tribunals for foreigners. These are quasi-judicial bodies, often with arbitrary procedures and biased and discriminatory decision-making, especially for women who have less access to ID documents as proof of their status ‘. The tribunals, run by members with limited judicial experience, often declared individuals to be “irregular foreigners” because of spelling mistakes such as slight differences in the spelling of a name or date of birth on the electoral roll. Over 1,000 people declared as foreigners were held in one of six internment camps in Assam, which are characterized by overcrowding and a lack of separation between detainees on remand, convicted criminals and inmates. Amnesty International India has also documented the deteriorating mental and physical health of the detainees. In Goalpara in Assam, construction began on the “largest Indian prison”, which is expected to house around 3,000 people who have been declared foreigners.

Repressive Laws

There have been numerous repressive changes to laws such as the Citizenship Act, the Unlawful Activities [Prevention] Act - UAPA, the Transgender Persons [Protection of Rights] Act, the Act on the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) and other laws.

During the monsoon session of Parliament, the UAPA, India's premier counter-terrorism law, was amended to allow the government to declare individuals a terrorist. The law contains a very broad, ambiguous definition of an "act of terrorism" and gives the government full power to brand ordinary citizens or activists as terrorists. It stands for banning critical thinking, criminalizing dissenting opinions and indicting people for being proactive members of society by calling them terrorists. During the same period, the law on the right to information was also watered down. The legislative changes weakened the independence of the information committees as the power to determine their terms of office, salaries and working conditions was transferred to the central government.

During the winter session of Parliament in December 2019, the law protecting the rights of transgender people was passed. The law undermines the rights of transgender and intersex people and violates India's international human rights obligations as well as the 2014 Supreme Court ruling in the NALSA v. Indian Union case. This is what the law sees, among other things. proposed a vague bureaucratic process for the legal gender recognition of transgender people.

During the same session, an amendment to the Citizenship Act was passed to enable migrants without regular residence status to acquire Indian citizenship through naturalization and registration. However, the law restricts the right to do so to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Pars and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who entered India on or before December 31, 2014. In addition, these communities no longer have to be able to prove their residence in India for eleven, but only five years for naturalization.

In addition to the negative consequences for refugees and asylum seekers, the changes also have an impact on the human rights of Indian nationals, especially Muslims. During the winter session of Parliament, Interior Minister Amit Shah announced a national register of citizens to document the citizenship of more than 1.3 billion people in the country and raise concerns about the fate of excluded Muslims. After nationwide protests against the law, the Indian government temporarily withdrew its announcement.

Right to freedom of expression

Human rights defenders have been arbitrarily arrested, detained and prosecuted while performing their duties in order to silence them.

Nine prominent human rights activists arrested in 2018 under the Crime Prevention Act (UAPA) remain arbitrarily detained for allegedly waging “a war against the country”. All nine have worked with the most marginalized groups in India, including Dalits and Adivasi, and have voiced views critical of the government. In February 2019, Maharashtra police arrested university professor Anand Teltumbde. He was accused of participating in the violent Bhima Koregaon riots in 2018 near Pune and having ties to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoists). He was released the next day, February 4, 2019, after a court ruled that his arrest was illegal.

In June 2019, the central investigative authority initiated criminal proceedings against the Lawyers Collective for allegedly violating the Foreign Contribution [Regulation] Act. This law inappropriately restricts the right of organizations to draw on foreign funds. The activities of the Lawyers Collective include providing legal assistance and advocating for the rights of marginalized groups.

Incitement allegations continued to be used to criminalize dissenting opinions. Pa Ranjith, a filmmaker and activist for Dalit rights, Hard Kaur, a rapper, and Shehla Rashid, a Kashmiri politician and activist, are just a few who have been charged with sedition for criticizing the government. On June 7, journalist Prashant Kanojia was arrested in New Delhi, the capital, for sedition after posting content on social media criticizing the Prime Minister of Uttar Pradesh. He was released on bail by the Supreme Court on June 12, but the charges were not dropped.

On October 3, 49 celebrities were charged with sedition for writing an open letter urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take meaningful action against hate crimes. In their letter, they cited statistics from the government and other independent sources to illustrate the rise in hate crimes and the decline in related convictions.

Central and state governments across India also opposed peaceful protests (including at various universities and minority institutions) against the discriminatory amendment to the Citizenship Act. State authorities arrested people demonstrating against the law or issued injunctions under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Furthermore, the Indian authorities took action against demonstrators with demonstrations of power, mass arrests and widespread internet shutdowns. In the state of Uttar Pradesh alone, more than 18 people, including an eight-year-old child, were killed and more than 5,000 people were detained.

Rights of indigenous peoples

On February 13, 2019, at the request of animal welfare organizations, the Supreme Court ordered the eviction of all forest dwellers in India after their request to be able to stay on their ancestral land was issued by the states on the basis of the Forest Rights Act. had been rejected. According to the Department of Tribal Affairs, it affected nearly two million families. Following central government intervention, the court temporarily suspended the order on February 28, pending information from states as to whether the denial of the claims met procedural guarantees. As of late 2019, the Supreme Court had not received any responses from the states.

In June 2019, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Adequate Housing, the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Human Rights of Internally Displaced People expressed concern about the negative impact of the Supreme Court's decision on the lives of millions of indigenous people.

Women's rights

Women continued to experience sexualized and domestic violence, including by husbands and other family members, as well as sexualized harassment in the workplace, while the perpetrators continued to enjoy impunity.

In April, a Supreme Court employee brought sexual harassment allegations against the Chief Justice in connection with a 2018 incident. The Chief Justice then called a judicial panel to investigate concerns that the allegations were motivated by the applicant's desire to attack the independence of the judiciary. According to media reports, the Chief Justice alleged that the victim was the subject of an "ongoing criminal investigation". The complaint was then referred to an internal committee made up of three judges. These included two women, but no external members, as required by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace [Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal] Act. The complainant's lawyer was not admitted to the meetings of the committee and her request for information on the committee procedure was denied. She then withdrew from the trial. After acquitting the Chief Justice of any wrongdoing, the committee denied the complainant access to a report detailing the committee's findings.

In July 2019, Parliament passed the Muslim Women [Protection of Rights on Marriage] Act, which came into force in September 2019. This prohibits the discriminatory practice of Islamic "instant divorce" (Triple Talak), which is reserved for men, and punishes them with a prison sentence of up to three years.

Violence against religious and ethnic groups

Hate crimes against Muslims and other religious groups, against ethnic groups including Dalits and Adivasi, as well as caste and gender-based crimes have occurred across the country. These violent attacks, which included lynching, were often carried out by vigilante groups and angry crowds.

Legislation against these crimes remained inadequate. In July 2019, the Uttar Pradesh Law Commission submitted a bill to the state government aimed at strengthening laws against lynching. In August, the Rajasthan government passed a law to protect against lynching. After Manipur, Rajasthan is the second state to punish lynchings by angry crowds, separate from the crime of murder, with stricter penalties.

Official data on vigilante lynching to protect cows remained inadequate because the government failed to understand the gravity and discriminatory motive behind the crime and rather it was under the provisions of the Indian Criminal Code relating to “rioting”, “illegal Congregation ”or“ Murder ”. The Indian Office of Crime Statistics did not publish crime, prison and suicide statistics for the third year in a row. The failure of the police to conduct an effective investigation resulted in dozens of suspected culprits being acquitted.

In June 2019, a video spread on social media showing the brutal murder of Tabrez Ansari, a 24-year-old Muslim worker, by an angry crowd in Jharkhand. Tabrez Ansari is seen tied to a stake and beaten by men with iron bars and sticks and forced to chant “Jai Sri Ram” (Glory to Lord Rama) and “Jai Hanuman” (Glory to Hanuman). Eleven men were charged with his murder, but the murder charges were dropped and changed to a negligent homicide charge because police alleged that the forensic reports indicated that he had died of a heart attack and that he had no intent to kill. However, after obtaining a second opinion from specialist doctors, the police filed an additional indictment maintaining the murder charges against 11 defendants based on a new medical report.

In August 2019, six out of nine men charged with the murder of Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer, were acquitted by a court in Rajasthan. The farmer had been lynched on suspicion of horse trading. The remaining three defendants were juveniles whose proceedings were tried in a court for juvenile offenders. In ordering the acquittal of the six defendants, the court found that the video showing the attack on Pehlu Khan was not admissible evidence. At the same time, the police filed a lawsuit against the killed Pehlu Khan and his two sons for cow smuggling.

Reporting period: January 1 - December 31, 2019

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