Human Rights

US official asks India to release political detainees

NEW DELHI: A visit by foreign envoys to Jammu and Kashmir is a “useful” step, a senior US diplomat said late Friday, while urging the Indian government to release “political leaders detained without charge” following the lockdown that was imposed in the union territory in August.

“I was pleased to see some incremental steps, including the partial return of internet service in Kashmir. And the visit by our ambassador and other foreign diplomats to Jammu and Kashmir is something that I know was extensively covered in the press. We see this as a useful step,” Alice Wells, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, told reporters in Washington.

“We also continue to urge the government to permit regular access by our diplomats, and to move swiftly to release those political leaders detained without charge,” Wells said. She was briefing reporters at the end of a visit to Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.

The comments follow a visit by diplomats from 15 countries to Jammu and Kashmir earlier this month for the first time since New Delhi revoked the region’s special status in August and changed it to a union territory.

The government at the Centre detained some political leaders, imposed curbs on movement of people and communications in August. Since October, it has been slowly rolling back some of the curbs.

On Saturday, the Kashmir administration announced restoration of broadband and mobile data services at 2G speeds almost six months after imposing a clampdown on communications.

In her remarks, Wells also spoke about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), saying that the US stressed on the principle of equal protection under the law. The CAA, which promises citizenship to only non-Muslim refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who came to India before 2015, has been called discriminatory by its critics and opposition parties.

“The visit also offered an opportunity to hear more regarding developments with India’s Citizenship Amendment Act, which is undergoing I would say a vigorous democratic scrutiny, whether it’s in the streets, by the political opposition, media, and the courts. We continue to underscore the importance of the principle of equal protection under the law,” she said.

The Indian government says the CAA is necessary to help those who have faced religious persecution in three neighbouring countries and will not endanger the citizenship of any Indian.

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