Kashmir rights defender held ahead of visit by envoys

Ahsan Untoo heads International Forum for Justice and Human Rights

SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir

A Kashmiri human rights defender on Tuesday said police detained him to keep him away from a delegation of foreign envoys set to visit the disputed region.

Ahsan Untoo, the chairman of the International Forum for Justice and Human Rights, Jammu and Kashmir, told Anadolu Agency from inside a lockup that he was taken into custody in Srinagar on Monday evening.

“I have been told that authorities fear I might hold a protest during the visit of the foreign delegation,” said Untoo, who was also detained on Aug. 5, 2019 when India scrapped the political autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir.

He was detained until last August under a preventive detention law. He has held scores of peaceful, often one-man protests, against alleged rights violations.

His organization has also helped families who accuse Indian forces of human rights violations.

“Do I not have a right, not as an activist but a parent, to meet these envoys and narrate my woes? If we can’t even express ourselves before a foreign delegation, what kind of visit is this and what kind of democracy is this?”

A 20-member delegation will visit the Indian-administered Kashmir on Feb. 17-18. This is the fourth tour of foreign envoys organized by India since the region was stripped of its special status.

The Indian government drew flak for past tours from the opposition, who said handpicked people were paraded before the visitors to present a false rosy picture of the region.

Pakistan has also called the upcoming visit a “smokescreen” to create “a false impression of ‘normalcy'” in the Himalayan valley, which is held by India and Pakistan in parts but claimed by both in full. A small sliver of the region is also under Chinese control.

Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir.

Some Kashmiri groups have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or unification with neighboring Pakistan. Thousands of people have been killed and tortured in the region since 1989, according to several human rights groups.

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