In a surprise move, Amnesty International, which shut down its India branch after a recent move by the Enforcement Directorate to freeze the organisation’s accounts charging it with “violation” of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and alleging money laundering, has sharply criticised the Australian government for “dangerously” downplaying human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in a recent report.
In a statement issued by the top human rights organisation’s Australian arm, it said, the Department of Foreign Affairs’ 2020 Country Information Report on India, published earlier this month, “dangerously downplays serious human rights concerns”, insisting, “Of particular concern are ongoing human rights violations in J&K, including prolonged internet shutdowns, as well as discrimination against minorities.”
“The communication and internet shutdown, its impact on media and the consequent curbing of the freedom of the press is understated in DFAT’s report,” Amnesty International Australia impact manager Tim O’Connor, said in a statement, adding, “The shutdown had a complete silencing effect on regional media. Newspapers only reproduced government information or wire agency reports collected from the Media Facilitation Centre set up by the Government of India in Srinagar.”
Pointing out that the shutdown “also affected other rights such as the rights to health and education”, the statement said, “The internet provides a crucial link to information that helps keep families healthy and safe during this global health crisis. To ensure real-time preparedness of the people against the spread of the virus, full access to high speed internet is essential. However, the people of J&K have been deprived of telemedicine and online education during the pandemic.”
“Amnesty International does not agree with the Department’s finding in part 3.53 of the report that states that Muslims in India ‘face a low risk of official discrimination’. Law reform such as the re-organisation of J&K is state-sanctioned discrimination of Indian Muslims, in favour of the Hindu majority”, the statement said, adding, “The Citizenship (Amendment) Act weaponised the National Register of Citizens, and Foreigners Tribunals, against Muslims. Amnesty’s own research clearly shows that Muslims in India indeed face significant ‘official discrimination’.”
It continued, “The ongoing exclusion of Muslims by the Foreigners Tribunals risks the creation of the largest statelessness crisis in the world”, even as quoting O’Connor as stating, “I note that the report does comment on the broader trend of human rights organisations and other non-government organisations being targeted and restricted, and agree with its findings. As the report notes, Amnesty International India has been one such target.”