• Tuesday, May 21, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Amid India polls, US unveils human rights report mentioning Manipur, Nijjar death

India has in the past responded to such reports by the US, saying they were based on “misinformation and flawed understanding”.

In this photo taken on September 28, 2023, security personnel fire tear gas as demonstrators protest near the family home of chief minister N Biren Singh, in Imphal in India’s northeastern state of Manipur, amid ethnic violence. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

IN a development that could make the Indian leadership feel uneasy, the United States has highlighted in its 2023 human rights report unveiled on Monday (22) “significant” abuses in the north-eastern state of Manipur following the outbreak of ethnic conflict in May last year.

The report, released by the US state department, also mentioned the raids made by Indian tax authorities at offices of the BBC and the issue of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist leader who was killed in Canada last June, allegedly by India-backed agents.

New Delhi was yet to respond to the report even though India’s ministry of external affairs has criticised in the past such reports by Washington saying they were based on “misinformation and flawed understanding”.

Read: Traders at women-run market in India’s violence-hit Manipur question relevance of elections: ‘What will change?’

Last year, the Indian government rejected a report by the US state department on international religious freedom that there were “numerous reports during the year of violence by law enforcement authorities against members of religious minorities in multiple states”. The MEA had lashed out at the report which had come ahead of prime minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the US, saying it was based on “motivated and biased commentary by some US officials”.

Read: Modi government blocks access to Sikh activist Nijjar murder documentary: report

The US’s latest report, 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, said, “The outbreak of ethnic conflict between the Kuki and Meitei ethnic groups during the year in India’s northeastern state of Manipur resulted in significant human rights abuses.

“Media reported at least 175 persons were killed and more than 60,000 displaced between May 3 and November 15. Activists and journalists reported armed conflict, rapes, and assaults in addition to the destruction of homes, businesses, and places of worship.”

The document, which has been released in the middle of the national election in India in which Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is seeking third straight term, also mentioned that India’s top court criticised the “failure of the central government and the Manipur state government” to stop the violence and appointed officials to look into the incidents of violence and ensure that humanitarian assistance is delivered besides houses and places of worship are rebuilt.

The report said significant human rights issues included credible reports of, besides arbitrary or unlawful killings, arbitrary arrest or detention, and others, serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom, including “violence or threats of violence against journalists” and “unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists”.

It said, “The government took minimal credible steps or action to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses.”

On the raids at BBC offices, the report said the tax officials “seized equipment from journalists who were not involved in the organisation’s financial processes”.

The raids, which the Indian authorities called “tax surveys”, took place at the broadcaster’s offices in Delhi and Mumbai in February 2023, weeks after the latter released a documentary — “India: The Modi Question” — on the riots in the western state of Gujarat of which Modi was the chief minister then.

The Indian government had ordered YouTube and Twitter (now X) to take down links sharing the controversial documentary, triggering a political row.

“Although tax authorities described the search as motivated by irregularities in the BBC’s tax payments and ownership structure, officials also searched and seized equipment from journalists who were not involved in the organization’s financial processes,” the report said, adding, “The government invoked emergency powers to ban screening of the documentary, forced media companies to remove links to the video, and detained student protesters who organized viewing parties.”

Human rights abuses committed in regions hit by terrorism, including Jammu and Kashmir, and areas affected by the Left insurgency were also mentioned in the report.

The report also mentioned the killing of Nijjar under the section named ‘Transnational Repression’ and spoke about Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s allegation that Indian government agents were involved in the murder of the Sikh Canadian citizen.

“The government was alleged by other governments, diaspora communities, and human rights groups to have killed persons, or used violence or threats of violence against individuals in other countries, for reprisal. On September 18, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government was investigating allegations of a link between Indian government agents and the killing of a Sikh Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, whom the Indian government alleged and designated as a terrorist, and who advocated for the creation of an independent Sikh state called Khalistan. The Indian government denied any involvement,” it said.

The report also mentioned the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada, saying it indicated a “pattern of extrajudicial actions by state agents”.

There was, however, no mention of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun’s ‘murder for hire’ case against India. Last year, American federal prosecutors accused an Indian intelligence official of planning and directing a plot to eliminate Khalistan separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who holds the dual citizenship of the US and Canada, in New York.

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