Amnesty: Human rights violations remain high

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Several governments in the South Asian region still make a habit of intimidation, imprisonment and ill-treatment of critics and political opponents, says Amnesty International in its annual report on human rights worldwide. It also condemns the lack of freedom of expression in South Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and India.

In its report “The State of the World’s Human Rights”, published on Friday, Amnesty highlights the plight of Dr Binayak Sen from India. He was sentenced to life last year for sedition after criticising the Indian government after spiraling Maoist violence in the state of Chhattisgarh. Separatists have been fighting a war against the Indian government for some years. Dr Sen has criticised both the government and the separatists.

Amnesty labels his conviction as politically motivated and full of procedural and evidentiary flaws.

The human rights organisation not only criticises Dr Sen’s conviction, it also denounces the ongoing clashes between the two sides, in which over 350 people were killed in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal states last year.

Amnesty also accuses the Indian government of detaining many people without a proper legal process in Jammu and Kashmir state.

Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka, the government failed to address impunity for past human rights violations, the report says. People are still subject to enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment.

Pakistan and Afghanistan’s human rights records remain troubled, according to Amnesty. Violations in Afghanistan were on the rise, including in northern and western parts of the country which were previously considered to be relatively safe.

Free speech
Civilians in various South Asian countries suffer from significant restrictions on their free speech, Amnesty finds in its report, citing the curtailing of journalists in post-elections Sri Lanka and the harassment and detention of Afghan journalists by the government after disputed parliamentary elections.

In Pakistan, the government did little to protect journalists and other media workers from Taleban and other radical groups. In 2010, 19 journalists were killed in Pakistan.

Social media
In general, Amnesty International says that the power of social media has brought an unprecedented opportunity for an improvement in human rights worldwide. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are helping activists to get around government suppression of free speech.

However, a battle for control of access to information and  communications channels is under way as governments are struggling to control social media networks.

Amnesty also says that companies that provide Internet access, mobile phone communications and social networking sites “must respect human rights and not become the pawns of repressive governments that want to spy on their people.”

Courageous people
“People are rejecting fear. Courageous people, led largely by youth, are standing up and speaking out in the face of bullets, beatings, tear gas and tanks," Amnesty's secretary general Salil Shetty said in a statement.

"Not since the end of the Cold War have so many repressive governments faced such a challenge to their stranglehold on power. But there is a serious fightback from the forces of repression."

Watch a video - produced by Amnesty International - that accompanied Amnesty's 2011 human rights report here: (or click here)