Indian cop accused of torture, murder trains with FBI
A police officer in charge of criminal investigations in Jammu and Kashmir is discovered taking FBI training. This officer ran a detention facility where people were allegedly tortured and interrogated.
An Indian police officer, Tahir Ashraf Bhatti, with a questionable past of alleged human rights violations, tweeted a picture of himself in the United States in late July. According to the tweet, he traveled to Houston to take part in FBI training.
Bhatti, a prominent police officer in charge of criminal investigations in Indian-administrated Jammu and Kashmir, operated a detention facility where citizens were allegedly interrogated and tortured because of what they had put online. He recently posted a picture of himself in front of an unclassified FBI slide show titled "Operation Catch Me If You Can" on Twitter.
“Continuous learning is the minimum requirement for success in any field,” he wrote in the tweet. A few days later, he posted a photo holding a souvenir FBI badge and wrote: “Appreciation is for now, gratitude is forever."
Continuous learning is the minimum requirement for success in any field. pic.twitter.com/fmb3AVmMQA— Tahir Ashraf (@Tahir_A) July 30, 2022
Bhatti headed the anti-terror unit of the regional police until this year; this unit has been implicated in extrajudicial murders and torture, including when he was chief. He was also the head of the cyber section, which opponents claim intimidates and physically harms detained Kashmiris as retaliation for online remarks criticizing the Indian government.
The Intercept has previously reported that Bhatti has been charged with beating a social media user who said he was brought to Cargo, a notorious detention center in Kashmir, after sending a tweet ridiculing Bhatti. The latter refuted the accusations made against him at the time, as well as assertions that people were mistreated because they expressed their political opinions online, either by him or the forces he controlled.
Difficult questions about the security relationship between the United States and India are raised by the FBI's training of Bhatti. In particular, the decision to train him might violate two legal provisions known as the "Leahy laws," which forbid the US government from aiding foreign security forces who are known to have violated human rights.
“The US government claims that this partnership is founded on shared values, including commitments to democracy, global institutions, and multilateral organizations,” said Haley Duschinski, a professor of anthropology at Ohio University whose research specializes in militarization and impunity in South Asia, with a focus on Kashmir, “but these words ring completely hollow in light of India’s refusal to fulfill its obligations under international human rights law.”
The Houston division of the FBI, where Bhatti is receiving training, did not respond.
Repression in Kashmir
Human rights advocates claim that although the crackdown on journalists, activists, and members of civil society in India and Kashmir has been justified as a counterterrorism measure, the Indian government has been using it as a blanket word to target dissidents. This excuse has frequently been used to defend Kashmir-related policy.
A recent report by Amnesty International revealed that repression in Kashmir has "drastically intensified" since the region's special status was revoked in 2019. This includes the use of anti-terrorism laws to target academics, journalists, activists, and lawyers who are thought to be critical of the Indian government.
Read next: Muslims in India and Kashmir face systemic violence
“There is an environment now where there is no space for protest. If there are abuses which any journalists choose to report, a series of things can happen: Their homes can be raided, they can be taken in for questioning, they can be blocked from traveling, or then they can be arrested,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Counterterrorism and sedition laws are now deployed routinely against activists, even though there is not much evidence for the charges produced.”
There is a history of proven human rights abuses by Indian security forces in Kashmir, including torture, mass executions, and widespread use of sexual violence as a "counterinsurgency tactic", according to Human Rights Watch.
It is worth mentioning that in 2019, the Indian Parliament proposed a citizenship amendment law that would check the “Indian-ness” of its citizens. After the law was passed, New Delhi mass-checked the identities of its citizens – a law disguised as a segregative, isolative measure against Muslims – and left 2 million Muslims in northeast India in 2021 at the mercy of becoming stateless, despite them having lived their entire lives in the country. Many of the Indian Muslims who did not find their names on the list of citizenship faced the risk of being thrown into detention or prison camps.
“Muslim women staged sit-ins in different parts of the country. It was only disbanded due to the pandemic, and the government had to shelve the project. Yesterday, women in the state of Uttar Pradesh marched on the streets demanding the arrest of Hindu seer Bajrangdas Muni. From the earlier trends, this will soon spread to the rest of India and the government will be forced to symbolically arrest the priest and put him in jail till protests fizzle out,” Banjeet said.