Jammu & Kashmir / India: Mobilisation of lawyers against repression in the Kashmir region
India took several radical measures on August 5 in the tense region of Jammu and Kashmir, which is administered by New Delhi but claimed by Pakistan. India announced that it intends to revoke article 370 of the Constitution, which has given the Jammu and Kashmir region its special autonomy since 1949, as well as article 35A, which reinforces Kashmir’s autonomous status.
At least 4,000 people have since been arrested. However, the authorities have not officially indicated how many people have been detained since the beginning of the crisis, merely confirming the arrest of around 100 local politicians, activists and academics, who would pose a risk to public order.
These arrests are most often based on the recently revised and highly controversial Public Security Act of 1978, which allows the authorities to imprison a person for up to two years on the grounds that they “would act in a manner prejudicial to State security” (Article 18(b) of the Public Security Act “Maximum period of detention”).
Among those arrested since August are prominent lawyers, including senior representatives of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association, based in Srinagar.
Indeed, police arrested Mian Abdul Qayoom, president of the Kashmir Bar Association and its former president, Nazir Ahmad Ronga. But also Fayad Sodagar, president of the Anantnag District Bar Association, and Abdyk Sakal Rather, president of the Bar Association of Baramulla District. All are held in prisons in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, 1,000 km from Srinagar.
Regarding the grounds for arrest, the police wrote, “We fear that you (referring to Qayoom) may motivate people to speak out against the repeal of article 370”.
An anonymous police officer reported that in Srinagar, “about 6,000 people underwent a medical examination after being detained”; “They are first sent to the central prison in Srinagar, and then transported elsewhere by military aircraft,” he said.
Another member of the security forces reported “thousands of people imprisoned”, adding that this number did not take into account other residents detained in police stations without being registered.
In Kashmir, 1,050 members of lawyers’ associations went on strike in support of protests against the repeal of Article 370 by the Indian government and the arrest of several lawyers. However, many lawyers do not want to speak publicly, fearing arrest.
The IOLD supports arrested and imprisoned lawyers and their families.
The IOLD also supports lawyers who are mobilizing for their colleagues and for their right to freedom of expression.
The IOLD strongly condemns these arrests and detentions and calls on the Indian authorities to comply with the Basic Principles on the Role of the Bar, adopted by the United Nations in 1990, and in particular Principle 23 which provides that:
“Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights (…)”.