Updated: Jul 12, 2020
Srinagar: “His cries while being tortured were broadcasted through loudspeaker for the neighbouring villagers to hear”, a “reportedly frequent” practice.
On 20 August 2019—a fortnight after India severed a special constitutional provision, Article 370, and reduced the former state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to a union territory—the house of Arif Wani of Shirmal village in south Kashmir’s Shopian district was raided by Indian army troops and he was asked to report to their camp at Chilpora, according to a new account from the United Nations (UN).
The next morning, “he was subjected to acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. After three hours Mr. Wani was released, he reportedly was not able to stand due to the injuries,” said the letter written in May and made public on 8 July 2020. “Soldiers returned to his home a few days later and threatened him not to reveal or share his experience.”
This account is from a communication sent by four UN Special Rapporteurs on the “continued deterioration of human-rights conditions” in J&K, before and after 5 August 2019.
Wani’s case is one of 17 in the letter sent by the UN Special Rapporteurs to the Centre. The letter refers to six cases of alleged torture before abrogation and the rest after, of males aged 12 to 65. Four of them died in custody of either the army or the police. Many of these cases of torture have not been previously reported in the media.
The UN officials who wrote the letter are Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other curel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extradudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; and Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom on religion or belief.
The four Special Rapporteurs wrote that they had received information “concerning the continued deterioration of human rights conditions” in J&K after 5 August, “in particular citing arbitrary detentions, violations to the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and rights of persons belonging to minorities”. They did not share the sources of their information.
The letter says should these allegations be confirmed, they would constitute violations of two international conventions—one ratified by India—and two UN General Assembly declarations. For instance, they said if torture allegations were confirmed, they would violate seven sections of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which India ratified on 10 April 1979, and two sections of the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The Special Rapporteurs first wrote to the Centre on 4 May, requesting a response to the allegations within 60 days and urging in the interim measures to halt the alleged violations and ensure accountability of those responsible. When there was no response, the UN made the letter public.
The letters refers to the Centre’s previous lack of response, on 16 August 2019—on concerns about restrictions on freedom of expressions and peaceful assembly—and 27 February 2020, about the detention of 76-year-old lawyer and president of the J&K High Court Bar Association, Mian Qayoom, detained under the Public Safety Act, 1978, during a 5 August security sweep. Qayoom suffers from ill-health and is currently lodged in Tihar Jail, Delhi.
Alleged Torture After Abrogation of Section 370
Here are some of the cases that the letter refers to:
Riyaz Ahmad Thickrey, 28: From the nomadic Gujjar tribe, he was arrested on 2 September 2019 during a night raid in his home located at a hill at Bandi-Nandpora, 17 km from Handwara, Kupwara xxx(district Kupwara), in northern Kashmir. The raid was conducted after a protest earlier in the day. Thickrey was detained at Qalamabad police station for four days.
On 6 September the police informed the family that Thickery had died and claimed he committed suicide. “It is reported that the body had a number of injuries to the skull and nose and the family suspects that he was tortured,” said the UN letter. His death triggered mass protests. On 7 September, the administration announced a magisterial inquiry, the findings of which are yet to be made public.
Yawar Ahmed Bhat, 15: On 17 September 2019, Bhat, from Chandigam village, Pulwama district, died in detention after consuming poison. “It is alleged that he was subjected to beatings by the police and was driven to suicide due to this traumatic experience,” said the UN letter.
Bashir Ahmad Dar, 65: A fruit-vendor from Mansoor Colony, Bemina, Srinagar, Dar was arrested at his home on 16 August 2019. “The police forcibly entered the house causing damage to the property; beat him and his family before taking him away,” said the UN letter. “The arrest was reportedly linked to protests earlier that morning which was (sic) triggered by the arrest of a group of boys in Mansoor Colony.
“While at the police station the police asked Mr. Dar to name individuals involved in pelting-stones at the police during the protest,” said the UN letter. “The police did not file a first information report on the arrest. Mr. Dar was detained for two days and released on an undertaking given by members of the mohalla [neighbourhood] committee that the local community would not assemble on the streets and that they would cease pelting stones.”
Bashir Ahmad Fafoo, 60, and his son, Irfan Ahmad Fafoo, 20: Both fruit vendors were arrested on 16 August 2019. “The police entered their home, broke the windows and beat Mr Irfan Fafoo and his family. Mr. Irfan Fafoo was taken away by police and forced to walk barefoot on the broken glass spread on the ground,” said the UN letter. “Both were released two days later on an undertaking by the mohalla committee members that there would be no more incidents of stone-pelting or assembly on the streets.”
Abdul Rashid Wani, 43: A department store owner from Manchowa, Budgam, Wani was taken into custody on 4 September 2019. “The police arrived in seven cars to his home, where he and his family were sleeping,” said the UN letter. “The police stormed the house; Mr. Wani was slapped a few times and dragged out of his house. He was detained at Chadoora Police Station for five days. He was released after the Tehsildar executive magistrate court denied his remand.”
Umar Farooq Bhat, 24: He was arrested on 19 September 2019 from Rangreth, Srinagar, after he was stopped by plainclothes and uniformed officers. “He was being beaten by police when his brother Mr. Musa Farroq Bhat arrived at the scene,” said the UN letter. “He attempted to intervene to object (sic) the arrest, but was also beaten by the officers. They were both transferred to Chadoora Police Station and released later that evening.”
Suhail Ahmad Sofi, 15: A student who was arrested by uniformed police on 19 September 2019. “During the arrest the police beat, slapped and kicked him multiple times,” said the UN letter. “Sofi was detained at Chadoora Police Station and though he was released that same evening he was asked to report back the following day. On 21 September 2019 his father attested (sic) at the police station that Sofi would not be involved in incidents of stone pelting or protests anymore.”
Adnan Shafi Bhat, 12: A student, Bhat was arrested on 19 September 2019 and allegedly beaten by the police. “When his family arrived at the police station, they were given the option to have one of them be held and Bhat released,” said the UN letter. “However the police later released him. His father was made to give an undertaking stating that his son would not take part in any stone pelting or protests thereafter. There was no first information report registered for this arrest and detention.”
Torture Reports Before August 5, 2019
Apart from mentioning people who were tortured after 5 August, the letter also lists people who were subject to corporal punishment between January and July 2019.
Tawseef Ahmad, 27: A resident of Achagoza, Pulwama, Ahmad was stripped and beaten by army personnel after reporting to the 44 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) Camp Shadimarg in Pulwama on 5 February, said the UN letter.
Mufti Sheeraz Ahmad and his father-in-law Mohammad Ahsan were hospitalized after soldiers from Ahagam camp beat them in their house on 16 February in Wathoo, Shopian during a search operation, the letter said.
Mohammad Ishaq Lone: Reported to the 34 RR camp in Nagisharan and was stripped naked and beaten. Consequently he had to be hospitalized, according to the UN letter.
Rizwan Assad Pandit, 29: A teacher and resident of Awantipora died on 19 March in the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Police Special Operations Group (or SOG) custody in an SOG camp in Haft Chinar, Srinagar. The preliminary postmortem report found that Pandit died due to “extravasations of blood” caused by multiple injuries. “He allegedly had torture marks visible on his corpse, however the autopsy report have not been made public,” the UN letter said.
Fazil Ahmad Malik, 14: A student from Soibugh area of Budgam district, Malik was allegedly detained at the RR camp in Daharmuna on 26 May 2019 and subjected to torture by army personnel, along with four other minor boys, said the UN letter. “He was seriously injured on the head and was hospitalized in SKIMS [Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences], Soura,” said the UN letter. “He had to be put on a ventilator for weeks before he recovered. It is reported that he was hit on the head with an iron rod and then beaten with canes and gun butts. An inquiry by district police was initiated at the time but none of the findings have been made public.”
(Shafaq Shah is a journalist based in Srinagar)