The Indian government is widely misusing a law allowing for detention without trial in the Indian-occupied Kashmir region, and fuelling animosity with it, the human rights group Amnesty International says. One Kashmiri leader, Masarat Alam Bhat, has been detained for a cumulative period of 20 years since 1990, despite never being charged with a crime, it said in a report, titled, Tyranny of A ‘Lawless Law’: Detention without Charge or Trial under the J&K PSA.
Aakar Patel, head of Amnesty International India, in the report recently said the Public Safety Act (PSA) was a “lawless law” under which the authorities hold children, old people and the disabled, and it should be scrapped. “This act is contributing to inflaming tensions between the state authorities and local populace and must be immediately repealed.” The law allows for detention for up to two years if a person is deemed acting “in any manner prejudicial to the security of the state”.
According to media reports, while the law prohibits the detention of children but Amnesty documented several cases where minors were knowingly detained. In more than 90 per cent of cases the group analysed, detainees faced both PSA detentions and criminal proceedings in parallel, on the basis of the same or similar allegations. It said it found 71 cases of revolving-door detentions, in which authorities kept on issuing orders to keep people behind bars.
The law, enacted in 1978, allows preventive detention of people against whom there may be no recognised criminal offence. Describing the legislation as draconian, Amnesty said it “circumvents the criminal justice system in Jammu and Kashmir to undermine accountability, transparency and respect for human rights”.
Amnesty said authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir repeatedly used terms such as “chronic stone pelter”, “incorrigible anti-social element” and “stigma for peace-loving people” to justify detention under the PSA.
The report said that “the regressive amendments” to the Act in 2018 have also led to detainees being held in prisons far from their homes, in violation of international human rights standards.
It said the people who were arbitrarily detained under the PSA and later acquitted continued to face difficulties in obtaining jobs or continuing their education. The report found a “pattern of abuse” by authorities, including “detaining children, passing PSA orders without due diligence and on vague and general grounds, ignoring the limited safeguards under the Act, subjecting individuals to ‘revolving-door detentions’, and using the PSA to prevent release on bail and undermine the criminal justice system”.
According to Human Rights Watch, the law contains vague and overly broad terms such as “security of the state” and “public order.” The law also protects officials from legal proceedings for anything “done or intended to be done in good faith,” which is inconsistent with the right to remedy for arbitrary detention or other human rights violations. “The law has often been used to detain people on vague grounds for long periods, ignoring regular criminal justice safeguards.” According to the Indian media, “detainees do not have any other means of legal redressal besides filing a habeas corpus petition in the court, since the law does not provide for any judicial review and the advisory board meant for the purpose of hearing complaints scarcely functions.
“A very large percent of the habeas corpus petitions result in the orders for detention getting quashed (since the grounds of detention are vague), but the court proceedings take time and in that interim period a number of criminal cases are filed against the detainee. Sometimes almost as soon as the order is quashed, another preventive order is served.”
For the so-called largest democracy, Front Line Defenders or The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, an Irish-based human rights organisation founded in Dublin to protect human rights defenders at risk, i.e. those who work non-violently to uphold the human rights of others has stated “human rights defenders in India face a diverse range of attacks and harassment, including killing, torture, ill-treatment, forced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and judicial harassment. Human rights defenders have also been labeled insurgents and Naxalites (Maoists), in an attempt to discredit their work and justify their targeting.”
Updated On: June 24, 2019