Ahead of Trump visit, 4 Senators raise Kashmir, CAA issues in letter to Pompeo

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The bipartisan group of Senators, in their letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dated February 12, said that India has now imposed the longest-ever Internet shutdown by a democracy. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

AHEAD OF President Donald Trump’s maiden visit to India, four influential US Senators, who described themselves as “longtime friends of India”, have sought an assessment of the human rights situation in Kashmir and religious freedom in the country, saying hundreds of Kashmiris remain in “preventive detention”.

The bipartisan group of Senators, in their letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dated February 12, said that India has now imposed the longest-ever Internet shutdown by a democracy, disrupting access to medical care, business and education for seven million people.

The government abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution on August 5, 2019 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and imposed curbs including on movement of people as well as on mobile telephone and Internet connectivity. The crackdown drew international criticism with several countries expressing concerns over the situation in Kashmir.

India has categorically told the international community that its move to scrap Article 370 was an internal matter. According to officials, Internet is being restored in the Valley in a phased manner after reviewing the security situation.

The US lawmakers, describing themselves as “longtime friends of India”, wrote in the letter that “more than six months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government unilaterally revoked the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, the government continues to block most Internet in the region”. “Hundreds of Kashmiris remain in ‘preventive detention’, including key political figures,” they said.

Signatories to the letter are Chris Van Hollen, Todd Young, Richard J Durbin and Lindsey O Graham.

“In addition, the Indian government has taken other troubling steps that threaten the rights of certain religious minorities and the secular character of the state. This includes the passage ofthe controversial Citizenship Amendment Act which is being challenged in India’s Supreme Court,” the Senators wrote.

In the letter, the Senators requested Pompeo for a State Department assessment of a number of issues in India, including the number of individuals detained by the government for political purposes and their treatment; current restrictions on communications in Jammu and Kashmir; current accessibility of Jammu and Kashmir; and restrictions on religious freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Virginie Battu-Henriksson said that the EU Ambassador to India along with some Ambassadors of EU Member States accepted the invitation extended by the Government of India to visit Srinagar and Jammu, on February 12-13. The programme of the visit organised by the Government of India included meetings with civil and military authorities, some political representatives, as well as selected representatives of civil society and the business community.

“The visit confirmed that the Government of India has taken positive steps to restore normalcy. Some restrictions remain, notably on Internet access and mobile services, and some political leaders are still in detention. While we recognise the serious security concerns, it is important that the remaining restrictions be lifted swiftly. The visit presented a welcome opportunity to see the situation on the ground and to interact with local interlocutors. We look forward to continuing the dialogue with India on the situation in the region.”