Monday, June 23, 2008

PEOPLE'S TRIBUNAL HARASSED IN KASHMIR

The Indian government has often successfully prevented the internationalisation of the Kashmir conflict. Anyone who attempts to unearth some of the dirty secrets of the Indian government in the state is often reminded that they are venturing into very murky waters. Reproduced below is a press release from the International People's Tribunal whose members were recently harassed and intimidated while carrying out their investigations into the mass graves.

On June 20, the 'International Peoples Tribunal on Human Rights andJustice in Indian-administered Kashmir' visited the northern districtof Kupwara, a heavily militarized zone about 95 kms from Srinagar, toconduct its investigations in the area, as part of its ongoing work tobe conducted in 2008-2009.

The team comprised of Tribunal Conveners Dr. Angana Chatterji andAdvocate Parvez Imroz, with a Tribunal staff member and camera crew.They first visited a mass grave in Trehgam village and interacted withinhabitants of the area. After which the team reached Regipora around3pm and stopped at a hotel for lunch. After the team came out of thehotel two persons were sitting on the ladders, one in a blue checkshirt and another in a white shirt, introducing themselves as SpecialBranch Kashmir (SBK) and CounterIntelligence Kashmir (CIK) personnel. They questioned the Tribunalstaff member about the purpose of their visit. After responding,Tribunal members proceeded with the fact finding.

The Tribunal team then visited the martyrs' graveyard in Regipora,after which they stopped at a nearby tea stall to speak with localpeople about the graves. Four persons, including the previous two thatintroduced themselves as the SBK, CIK personnel again questioned themembers of the team: Who are you?, What are you doing here?, How manyvillages you visited from the morning?, Who are the persons whom youinterviewed from the morning? Are you a foreign national? (to Dr.Chatterji who is a citizen of India and resident of the US). The teamagain answered their questions without any argument.

After this episode ended another four persons establishing themselvesas SBK and CIK personnel came to the scene. The personnel asked themembers, how many foreigners are there in the team and are they carryingpassports with them? The personnel again asked, Who is the Lady? Whatis she? Which are the places you visited from the morning? And whomdid you talk and interviewed from the morning?

Three more persons, who were at different locations in the market, andseen making phone calls constantly, again questioned the Tribunalteam: 'Did you take any footage and pictures from the places youvisited?' The team again answered to their queries. In total, therewere 12 intelligence personnel. The questioning by the personnel tookaround one hour. Then the team proceeded towards Srinagar. While theteam rode back, a car started to follow the team. The team detouredfrom the highway and went to another mass grave in the area.

After the Tribunal team left the last site, they were stopped atShangargund, Sopore, at around 6:40 pm by three persons in civilianclothing. The personnel ordered the driver of car to get down and tookhim aside. The driver was asked, 'Which places you visited?' hereplied them and then the three persons without proving their identityforcibly boarded the Tribunal car, which was already filled tocapacity. These personnel without proving their credentials oroffering justification ordered the Tribunal team to Police Station inSopore. When the members asked for identification, they responded thatthey would introduce themselves at the police station.

Police Station Episode:At the police station Advocate Imroz, Dr. Chatterji, and thecamerapersons were asked to give details of their identity, thepurpose of their visit to Kupwara, and asked to hand over the tapeswhich the police alleged contained 'dangerous' and 'objectionable'material. Dr. Chatterji and Advocate Imroz stated that the Tribunal, apublicly announced process, ongoing since April 05, 2008, had beenundertaking its work peaceably, lawfully, with informed consent oflocal people and that they had not visited restricted areas, andstated that the police had no lawful reason to demand the seizure ofthe tapes. At the police station, where the Tribunal members weredetained for 16 minutes, the Tribunal team received calls frompresspersons and other concerned citizens. After several calls tosenior police persons, the police released the Tribunal team.

After the team left the police station a red colored Indica car, whichcame out from the Police Station Sopore, tailed the Tribunal teamagain up to Sangrama.

In addition, there are Intelligence personnel stationed at Dr.Chatterji's hotel. On June 21, she was followed from her hotel byIntelligence to the Tribunal's office in Lal Chowk, Srinagar, whereabout 8 personnel have been stationed the entire day questioning anyperson that leaves or enters the office.

The Tribunal is gravely concerned that team members are being singledout for intimidation and harassment by the government - Police,intelligence, and other agencies. As well, Dr. Chatterji was stoppedand intimidated at Immigration while leaving India for the US whereshe is a professor of anthropology, in April after announcing theTribunal, and again on her re-entry in June.

The Tribunal is extremely concerned at the harassment and intimidationdirected at the team and how some of its members are surveilled. Weare concerned that such intimidation and harassment makes furtherdangerous the work of the Tribunal which remains daunting under thebest of circumstances. We remain gravely concerned that suchinterventions stand in the way of the Tribunal carrying out itsresponsibilities to communities affected by the culture of violence in Kashmir.

We hope and expect that the Tribunal will not be harassed, intimidatedor threatened and that its members, as human rights defenders, cancontinue their work. We call on our colleagues and allies to supportus in this crucial process and request that they remain attentive tothe tactics of intimidation and violence in Kashmir.

3 comments:

Sathej said...

Really sickening to hear about such treatement being meted out to the Tribunal. This is perhaps the reason why it is said that Indians are scared and sceptical to approach the police for any complaints, lest the complaint be turned onto themselves. The intimidation tactics would undoubtedly be disillusioning for the Tribunal members. Yet another instance where the right to express is condemned to the back yard.
Sathej

Alaphia said...

Yes Sathej, This is the sort of harassment that anyone challenging the government version of events and affairs faces. And this is true not just in Kashmir but in several parts of India. Imagine what its like in Tamil Nadu where the vernacular press is virtually owned by the two main political parties.

Sathej said...

Very true, Alaphia. The press is highly polarized and even the TV channels. Its very much like reading/seeing contradictory things on the same issue. People grow tired after some time and stop trusting either source. You would be knowing about it as well, having been here for NDTV.The SRM event and the rice racket thing, for instance.Honest and going-into-details reporting is entirey discouraged.
Sathej