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Amnesty International Accused of ‘Sedition’ in India

The human rights group is in India’s crosshairs over an event focused on the hot-button issue of Kashmir.

An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard during a curfew in downtown Srinagar on August 11, 2016.
More than 50 people have been killed and thousands injured in weeks of unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir, sparked by the death on July 8 of popular rebel commander Burhan Wani in a firefight with government forces. / AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA        (Photo credit should read )
An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard during a curfew in downtown Srinagar on August 11, 2016. More than 50 people have been killed and thousands injured in weeks of unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir, sparked by the death on July 8 of popular rebel commander Burhan Wani in a firefight with government forces. / AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read )

Amnesty International, a prominent human rights nonprofit, isn’t known for taking sides in territorial disputes or for stoking up anti-government sentiment.

But after holding an event Saturday focused on one of India’s touchiest national issues — human rights in Kashmir — the group was accused of “sedition” by a right-wing student organization with ties to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

According to the complaint, Amnesty traded its usually apolitical tone for an overtly anti-Indian government one, with the event moderator, an employee of Amnesty who attended but didn’t take the stage, and a Kashmiri musical guest each accused of shouting “anti-national” slogans.

Amnesty denied each of the allegations in a press statement released Tuesday, calling them “without substance” and asserting “no Amnesty International India employee shouted any slogans at any point.”

But the group did acknowledge that toward the end of the event, some guests made calls for azaadi, the Persian-derived word for liberty and an emotive term used by Kashmiris seeking freedom from Indian rule.

Police in Bangalore, the city where the event was held, have launched a formal criminal investigation against Amnesty, but authorities have yet to determine whether or not the employees can be charged with sedition.

“Merely organizing an event to defend constitutional values is now being branded ‘anti-India’ and criminalized,” Aakar Patel, the executive director of Amnesty’s India branch, told the Financial Times.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars for control over the Muslim-majority Kashmir region, with territory split between the two governments and a small pocket in the north under Chinese administration. Separatist militias on India’s side of the border have waged a low-level insurgency for decades.

After security forces killed a young Kashmiri militia commander in early July, residents flocked to the streets to protest for independence, prompting a strict curfew that has put much of the region on lockdown. Clashes have left more than 60 people dead and dozens more blinded by pellet guns.

Photo credit: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. @HenryJohnsoon

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