Barristers have urged the prime minister of India to protect the rights of lawyers detained in the Kashmir Valley, claiming that the region’s justice system is ‘in a state of near collapse’.
In a letter to Narendra Modi, the Bar Council and the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) expressed ‘serious concern’ about reports of the detention of over 3,000 civilians in the Kashmir Valley since August when the Indian government revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
The president and the former president of the High Court Bar Association of Jammu and Kashmir have reportedly been arrested, along with other senior lawyers.
Richard Atkins QC, Bar Council chair, and Schona Jolly QC, BHRC chair, wrote: ‘We understand that at least 300 people, including lawyers and civilians, have been detained and can be held by the authorities for up to two years without trial. The government’s failure to publish the number detained adds further cause for alarm about their security.’
They added: ‘The security of lawyers should be adequately safeguarded by the authorities. Lawyers should not be identified with their clients’ causes, and like other citizens, lawyers are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly.’
Atkins and Jolly also criticise a communications blackout in Jammu and Kashmir which has ‘has seriously affected the routine functions of the courts’.
They urged the Indian government to allow in independent investigative teams and to publish the names of those who have been detained. ‘Those who remain detained must be afforded access to proper legal representation,’ they conclude.
In August, India’s government revoked part of the constitution that gave Kashmir – a Muslim-majority region – special status. The move prompted a security lockdown, thousands of arrests and the suspension of internet services.