September 2006 News

No freedom in PoK: Human Rights Watch

23 September 2006
The Hindu
Nirupama Subramanian

Islamabad: The people of 'Azad' Kashmir are anything but azad, or free, says Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report on the situation in Pakistan- occupied Kashmir (PoK). The PoK is described in the report as a land of restrictions on political rights and civil liberties and dominated by the Pakistan military and intelligence agencies that use arbitrary arrests and torture to get their way. The HRW also reports that militant infiltration across the Line of Control (LoC) into India continues though the levels have come down. Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Tariq Azeem said the report was 'biased and inaccurate' and contained 'factual errors.' He said no banned outfit had been allowed to operate. He said HRW collated the report with Indian researchers, and said the only Pakistani involved was Asma Jahangir, who is the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission. Released here on Thursday, the report says: 'Azad Kashmir is a land of strict curbs on political pluralism, freedom of expression, and freedom of association; a muzzled press; banned books; arbitrary arrest and detention and torture at the hands of the Pakistani military and police; and discrimination against refugees from Jammu and Kashmir state.' It says Kashmiri nationalists are singled out for discrimination because they do not support the idea of Kashmir's accession to Pakistan. 'For those expressing independent or unpopular political views, there is a pervasive fear of Pakistani military and intelligence services - and of militant organisations acting at their behest or independently,' says the report entitled 'With friends like these... ' The report says torture is not commonplace but is threatened often and when perpetrated by the military, carried out with impunity. The report contains cases of torture by the Inter-Services Intelligence and by the region's police acting at the behest of the ISI and the army. The tight controls on freedom of expression do not, however, apply to Pakistani-backed militant groups. The HRW says these groups have had 'free rein' to propagate and disseminate their views. 'The Pakistani intelligence apparatus retains close associations with these groups,' the 71-page report says. Infiltration Available on the HRW website, the report says that 'virtually all independent commentators, journalists, as well as former and serving militants, Pakistani military officials and Pakistan-backed AJK politicians speaking off-the-record told HRW that there was continuing militant infiltration from AJK into Jammu and Kashmir state, but were not willing to be quoted for fear of reprisal from the ISI'. These persons told HRW that while there was a substantial decrease in the infiltration levels since 2004, 'there have been no indications that the Pakistani military or militant groups had decided to abandon infiltration as policy'.


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