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India: State of Jammu and Kashmir Amends Public Safety Act

(Apr. 11, 2012) On April 5, 2012, the legislature of Jammu and Kashmir, a state in northern India, amended the state's 1978 Public Safety Act (PSA), limiting its strict provisions. (Act No. 6, 1978, REFWORLD.)

The PSA has been used to arrest thousands of people in past years. The revisions include reducing some pre-trial detention periods. In the case of persons who have taken actions “prejudicial to the security of the state,” for a first instance, the detention period permitted under the PSA has been reduced to six months, from the previous two years. This detention can still be increased to two years if the conduct of the person detained does not improve. In addition, those held for “acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public law” can now be held in the first instance for only three months, but the detention can be extended to a full year. (India: Kashmir Govt Amends Public Safety Act, Reduces Pre-Trial Detention, THE TELEGRAPH ONLINE (Calcutta) (Apr. 6, 2012), World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No. 201204061477.1_2b3a0077b451526c.)

The revision was supported by the state government of Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister of the state since 2009. (Omar Abdullah (last visited Apr. 9, 2012).) Another provision of the amended law puts in place the rule that minors under the age of 18 cannot be detained under the PSA. Further, the amended law now requires the detaining authority to give the reason for any detention in the language of the person being held. (India: Kashmir Govt Amends Public Safety Act, Reduces Pre-Trial Detention, supra.)

Human rights groups have long denounced the use of the PSA, claimed that it results in wrongful detentions, and called for its repeal. (Id.) Amnesty International (AI) released an in-depth report on the subject last year in which it quotes estimates that 8,000-20,000 people have been detained over the years under the provisions of this law. (A “LAWLESS LAW”: DETENTIONS UNDER THE JAMMU AND KASHMIR PUBLIC SAFETY ACT 4 (Mar. 21, 2011) [download by clicking on the pdf link].) The report goes on to acknowledge that the region has faced security challenges and states:

Amnesty International takes no position on the guilt or innocence of those alleged to have committed human rights abuses or recognizably criminal offences. However, everyone must be able to enjoy the full range of human rights guaranteed under national and international law. By using the PSA to incarcerate suspects without adequate evidence, India has not only gravely violated their human rights but also failed in its duty to charge and try such individuals and to punish them if found guilty in a fair trial. (Id.)

Sam Zarifi, AI's Asia-Pacific Director, said in 2011, “[t]he Jammu and Kashmir authorities are using PSA detentions as a revolving door to keep people they can't or won't convict through proper legal channels locked up and out of the way.” (Jammu and Kashmir: Hundreds Held Each Year Without Charge or Trial, AI website (Mar. 21, 2011).)

At the time its report was released, AI recommended the repeal of the law, the release of those detained without trial, and measures to safeguard the rights and health of those detained. (Id.) The recent reforms have been described by one activist, Khurram Parvez, as insufficient. He argued that a draconian law cannot be made humane and also stated:

It is an old wine in a new bottle kind of a thing. The government can book a person for two years under the amended law after extending his detention every six months. Once the detention period of two years ends, the authorities would bring fresh charges against a detainee to continue detention for as many years as they want. (India: Kashmir Govt Amends Public Safety Act, Reduces Pre-Trial Detention, supra.)