Sun 29 February 2021:
United Nations Human Rights commissioner Michele Bachelet raised the farmers’ protests, sedition charges against journalists and curbing of social media in an update to the Human Rights Council on Friday, February 27.
In her oral update, Bachelet had raised concerns about human rights issues in 50 countries, ranging from Spain to Sudan.
In the part about India, she observed that farmers’ protests “highlight the importance of ensuring laws and policies are based on meaningful consultations with those concerned”. She hoped that the dialogue efforts by the farmers and Centre “will lead to an equitable solution to this crisis that respects the rights of all”.
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She also stated that sedition charges on journalists and activists for reporting or commenting on protests and attempts to curb freedom of expression on social media “are disturbing departures from essential human rights principles”.
At least three BJP-ruled states have filed FIRs against journalists for sharing “unverified” news about the tractor rally on January 26. An FIR was also filed against The Wire, its founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan and reporter Ismat Ara for reporting on the allegations made by the family about the death of Navreet Singh at the tractor rally on January 26. An independent journalist, Mandeep Punia, was arrested at Singhu border for reporting on the farmers protests.
The Indian Government had also asked social media platform Twitter to block tweets and handles which had been actively posting on the farmers’ protests. The accounts included that of magazine Caravan, the farmers’ protest account Kisan Ekta Morcha and several independent journalists and activists.
Bachelet also appreciated the experience of a pilot programme from Kerala where “officials, civil society organisations and community leaders have used innovative technology to ensure that the voices of marginalized and poor people are heard, and their needs addressed, in the pandemic response”.
Bachelet also spoke on the situation in Kashmir, noting that restrictions on communications and clampdowns on civil society activists “remain of concern”. She observed that despite the restoration of 4G access for the first time since August 2019 in Kashmir, the “communications blockade has seriously hampered civic participation, as well as business, livelihoods, education, and access to health-care and medical information”.
“Raids against human rights defenders in October and November exemplify the continued restrictions on civil society, and resulting impact on the rights of the people of Kashmir to impart and receive information, and to engage in free, open debate on Government policies affecting them,” she noted.
Across the border, Bachelet said that there had been students’ protests in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir due to disruptions in internet access.
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