A Lawless Law

March 21, 2011

This is part of a series of articles on administrative detentions in Kashmir for Amnesty International’s Security and Human Rights Campaign.  

We released a report documenting the misuse of the Public Safety Act in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). As part of this report’s release, I will be writing a series of posts on this blog (with actions that you can take) over the coming weeks highlighting cases of people whose human rights have been violated because of the misuse of the Public Safety Act in J&K. For more information related to Kashmir and human rights in South Asia, please follow me on twitter at twitter.com/acharya_dude.

The report talks of how Kashmir is holding hundreds of people each year without charge or trial in order to “keep them out of circulation,” not by charging people with a crime, but just holding people because they can. In fact, the Indian Supreme Court has called this law a “lawless law.”

The authorities in J&K are using PSA detentions as a revolving door to keep people they can’t or won’t convict through the legal system locked up and out of the way. These arrests expose people to a higher risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

The people who get detained include political leaders and activists, suspected members or supporters of armed opposition groups, lawyers, journalists and protesters, including children. Often, they are initially picked up for ‘unofficial’ interrogation, during which time they have no access to a lawyer or their families.

Over the past decade there has been a marked decrease in the overall numbers of members of armed groups operating in Jammu & Kashmir. But in the last five years, there has been a resurgence of street protests.

Despite this apparent shift in the nature of the unrest, J&K authorities continue to rely on the PSA rather than attempting to charge and try those suspected of committing criminal acts. This undermines the rule of law and reinforces deeply held perceptions that police and security forces are above the law.

Those held under the PSA can face up to two years in detention. But the Jammu and Kashmir authorities consistently thwart J&K High Court orders for the release of improperly detained individuals by issuing successive detention orders. Many detainees are thus trapped in a cycle of detention and remain, in the words of one high-ranking J&K official, “out of circulation.”

Oh and hey talk about impunity, the PSA provides immunity from prosecution for officials operating under it. Furthermore, the use of administrative detention doesn’t conform to international human rights obligations and agreements that India has signed on to.

We are calling on the Government of Jammu & Kashmir to immediately:

  • repeal the PSA and with it the system of administrative detention, releasing all detainees or charging those suspected of committing criminal acts with recognized offences and providing fair trials in a court of law.
  • end illegal detentions and introduce safeguards ensuring those detained are charged promptly, have access to relatives, legal council and medical examinations and are held in recognized detention facilities pending trial.

We are further calling on the Government of Jammu & Kashmir and the Government of India (the Central government) to carry out an investigation into allegations of abuses against detainees and their families, including allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, denial of visits and medical care, making its findings public and holding those responsible to account.

It’s time for this law to go and for the human rights violations to end in Kashmir.