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Blackout and curfew Swiss NGO wants Kashmir discussion during Indian president’s visit


The Indian government claims that only 8% of the state of Jammu and Kashmir face restrictions on movement.

(Keystone / Farooq Khan)

The Swiss branch of Amnesty International has called on the Swiss president and foreign minister to raise the issue of the communications blackout in Kashmir imposed by Indian authorities.  

The NGO denounced what it referred to as “the deteriorating human rights situation” including the “targeting of the Indian government’s political opponents in Jammu and Kashmir”. The group wants the issue to feature on the agenda during the state visit of the Indian President Ram Nath Kovind to Switzerland scheduled from September 12-15.  

The removal on August 5 of the special autonomy accorded to Jammu and Kashmir in 1949 - after it acceded to India in 1947 - led to protests and a government clampdown on free movement and communication facilities.   

"The opposition is being decimated by arbitrary arrests and detentions. The valley is cut off from the world by a communications blackout and severe traffic restrictions imposed by the authorities," said Alain Bovard, a lawyer at the Swiss chapter of Amnesty. 

The NGO has asked Swiss authorities to push for the end of the communications blockade, release of political leaders placed under administrative detention, restraint from use of excessive force to deal with demonstrations and allow dissenting opinions to be expressed. On Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, also commented on the situation in Kashmir during her opening statementexternal link at the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva. 

“While I continue to urge the governments of India and Pakistan to ensure that human rights are respected and protected, I have appealed particularly to India to ease the current lockdowns or curfews; to ensure people's access to basic services; and that all due process rights are respected for those who have been detained,” she said.  

Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, addressed the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday.  

"For the last six weeks India has transformed occupied Jammu and Kashmir into the largest prison on the planet," said Qureshi. He added that India's "illegal military occupation" of the Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir raises the spectre of "genocide".

In response, Indian authorities recently issued a statement claiming that landline telephony service has been completely restored in Kashmir while mobile phone access is back in most regions and will be restored progressively. 

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Qureshi said: "I do not see in the present environment any possibility of a bilateral engagement with India." He urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council to help defuse tensions.

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