The Amnesty International released a damning report on Tuesday on the 'abuse' of the harsh Public Safety Act (PSA) in Kashmir claimed that youth as young as 16 can be booked under the prevalent act in the state, unlike in other parts of the country. It demanded immediate repealing of the act and sought judiciary help to make the police more accountable.
"The J-K authorities are using PSA detentions as a revolving door to keep people they cannot or won’t convict through legal channels locked up and out of the way," said Vikram Jeet Batra, Amnesty’s India chapter head, while releasing a 70-page report titled 'Lawless Law': Detentions under the J-K Public Safety Act' in Srinagar on Monday. Batra was accompanied by Amnesty’s South Asia director Madhu Malhotra.
The rights body claimed 8,000-20,000 people have been booked under the act in the last two decades, with 322 cases reported in 2010 till September.
"Hundreds of people are being held each year on spurious grounds, with many exposed to higher risks of torture and other forms of ill treatment," said Batra, who met Union home secretary GK Pillai on March 17 to hand over the report and recommendations.
The report has come on a day when the J-K police are on a lookout for 1,160 youth, wanted in fuelling and organizing last year’s street protests. Death of a schoolboy in June last year sparked off a spate of street protests in the valley leaving 112 people dead.
The right group claimed the detainees under the PSA include militant sympathizers, lawyers, separatist women, journalists and protesters, including children. "Youth above 16 can be booked under the PSA in Kashmir, while it’s above 18 in the rest of the country. J-K legislative is yet to upgrade the law to bring it on par with the act applied in India," said Batra.
The rights body said people are picked up for "unofficial" interrogation, during which time they have no access to a lawyer or their families. Batra said magistrates act as "rubber stamps". "If judiciary is good at quashing PSAs, it fails to make the police accountable. It has failed to issue investigation orders into the cases," he said.
The Amnesty report said despite fall in militancy and resurgence of street protests, the authorities "continue to rely on the PSA rather than attempting to charge and try those suspected of committing criminal acts". It said the PSA undermines the rule of law and “reinforces the perception that police and security forces are above the law".
Under the PSA, a person can be held without a trial for 1-2 years and can be booked on the perception of him being threat to the security. "But the word security has not been defined," said Batra adding "authorities consistently thwart High Court orders for the relase of improperly detained individuals by issuing successive detention orders".
The Amnesty report also criticised the government of India. "The use of administrative detention does not confirm to international human rights legal obligations and agreements that the Indian government is a party to…The government should repeal the PSA and end odious system of administration detention once and for all," said the report, prepared for the past 10 years.
The report will be submitted to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions. The Amnesty claimed the Indian Supreme Court has described administrative detentions, including the PSA as 'lawless law'. "Amnesty research shows implementation of the PSA is often arbitrary and abusive, with many of those being held having committed no recognizable criminal acts," said the report.