HRW: Indian torture tactics may boost militancy

Abusive counter-terrorism tactics, such as torture, are routinely used by Indian police and may actually be boosting militancy in the country, a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

“Allegations of torture are often used as propaganda for recruitment (by militant groups),” said HRW’s South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly.

“When torture happens, it is used to bring in other Muslims who are told that their community is under threat.”

Critics say India’s surveillance hurts goal of drawing business

Prompted by fears of digital-era plotters, Indian officials are demanding that network operators give them the ability to monitor and decrypt digital messages, whenever the Home Ministry deems the eavesdropping to be vital to national security. Critics, though, say India’s campaign to monitor data transmission within its borders will hurt other important national goals: attracting global businesses and becoming a hub for technology innovation.

The most inflammatory part of the effort has been India’s threat to block encrypted BlackBerry services, widely used by corporations, unless phone companies provide access to the data in a readable format. But Indian officials have also said they will seek greater access to encrypted data sent over popular Internet services like Gmail, Skype  and virtual private networks that enable users to bypass traditional telephone links or log in remotely to corporate computer systems.

Critics say such a threat could make foreigners think twice about doing business here. Especially vulnerable could be outsourcing for Western clients, like processing medical records or handling confidential research projects, information that is typically transmitted as encrypted data.

“They will do damage by blocking highly visible systems like BlackBerry or Skype,” said Ajay Shah, a Mumbai-based economist who writes extensively about technology. “This will shift users to less visible and known platforms. Terrorists will make merry doing crypto anyway. A zillion tools for this are freely available.”

Indian Armed Forces Special Powers Act under scrutiny

The Indian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has recently come under intense scrutiny, as a result of being too often used in areas declared ‘disturbed’. The AFSPA, first introduced in the north-east in 1958, was extended to Jammu and Kashmir in 1990. In 1997 the Supreme Court ordered a six-monthly review of areas declared ‘disturbed’, but this ruling is often breached.

According to Kavita Srivastava, rights activist and a leader of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), the AFSPA gives the military wide powers to arrest without warrant, shoot to kill and destroy property, while protecting its personnel from prosecution. As a result, “a culture of impunity has, over the many years, been fostered in the affected areas,” Srivastava said.

On September 17 India’s army chief Gen. V.K. Singh defended the AFSPA as an ”enabling provision, not an arbitrary one”. He hastened to add that it was for the government to take a ”correct decision” on changes to the Act.

An all-party group of India’s top political leaders scheduled to visit Jammu and Kashmir on September 20-22 was expected to call for a review of the AFSPA, and for inquiries into the many killings and human rights abuses that are alleged to have taken place under its shield.

In March 2009 the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, called for repeal of the AFSPA, describing it as a “dated and colonial-era law” that breached ”contemporary international human rights standards.”

Some estimates are that over 100,000 Kashmiris may have been killed by the armed forces since 1989, when separatism took a violent turn. According to the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice more than 8,000 people have also gone missing during this period.

PUCL general-secretary Mahi PalSingh said he believed that the prolonged imposition of AFSPA in Kashmir has perpetuated the cycle of violence between citizens and the armed forces and that the space for political negotiations in that state can be opened up only after it is repealed.

Governments threaten to suspend Blackberry services

The UAE, which includes the business centres of Dubai  and Abu Dhabi, said it would prevent BlackBerry services such as email, web browsing and text messaging from October, after first raising concerns with the Canadian manufacturer Research In Motion (RIM) three years ago. The ban will extend to visitors to the UAE who take their BlackBerrys  with them, although phone services will still be available.

Within hours of the UAE’s decision to block BlackBerry services, a Saudi telecommunications official said the desert kingdom would begin blocking the BlackBerry messaging service starting later this month. However, Saudi Arabia and the company that makes BlackBerry mobile devices are testing a plan that would allow the government to monitor messages sent to and from the smart phones. RIM went to work on providing a server for the country. On August 9, it was reported that the server was now operational, allowing BlackBerry users to continue to use the instant messaging service.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the UAE’s telecoms authority said the decision to ban data services “is based on the fact that, in their  current form, certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security  concerns”.The UAE government, which relies heavily on high-tech surveillance measures as key elements of its security infrastructure, said it had had discussions with RIM about its concerns but no progress was made. But Mohammed al-Ghanim, director-general of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, dismissed suggestions that the regulator’s decision had anything to do with censorship.

“It is about regulatory compliance and we are not asking for RIM to do anything that is not apparently being done in developed nations or so-called open countries around the world,” he said.

The Gulf states have singled out BlackBerry, which has 46m users worldwide, because unlike rivals, it encrypts its data and processes it through a handful of secure operational centres, chiefly in Canada, putting them outside of local jurisdictions. That makes it a more secure network and popular for corporate and government users, but more difficult to monitor. Other smartphones, like the Apple iPhone, are not tied to one e-mail service. In general, that means e-mail to and from the devices mostly travels over the open Internet and can be relatively easily monitored.

The move to suspend data services on the popular devices is the latest flare-up as governments in the Middle East and other countries including China, Turkey and Pakistan grapple with the free flow of information over the internet.The administration in Bahrain recently banned the provision of local news on BlackBerry devices. In Kuwait, in contrast, the instant messaging service will continue, but following negotiations between the Kuwaiti Communications Ministry and RIM, 3,000 websites with licentious content are to be blocked.

Last month, the Indian government renewed a threat to ban BlackBerry services unless RIM gave it access to data transferred by its secured messaging system. This was resolved last week after the head of internal security in India said RIM agreed to address concerns over the possible use of its data services by terrorists.

According to the Financial Times, Google and Skype could face similar threats in the future. Minutes from an Indian government meeting obtained by the newspaper say:

“There was consensus that there [is] more than one type of service for which solutions are to be explored. Some of them are BlackBerry, Skype, Google etc,” the minutes read. “It was decided first to undertake the issue of BlackBerry and then the other services.”

It’s unlikely that the Indian government is interested in Google’s search business, but about 20 million Indians are active on Google’s social networking service, Orkut, which encourages them to communicate with each other over Google Talk.

Arranging lawful interception of peer-to-peer services like Skype and Google Talk will be more difficult than for BlackBerry. The latter at least goes through a single server, while VoIP communications such as Skype are genuinely peer-to-peer in that once a call has been established the communication is entirely decentralised.

Research in Motion (RIM) has responded to a report in India’s  Economic Times reported saying the firm will allow Indian security authorities to monitor Blackberry services.

“We won’t compromise on the security architecture of our corporate e-mails,” said RIM’s India spokesman, Satchit Gayakwad.

“We respect the requirements of regulatory bodies in terms of security, but we also look at the customer’s need for privacy.”

And in a further statement the firm said it co-operated with  all governments “with a consistent standard and the same degree of respect”.

The firm also denied it had ever provided anything unique to the government of one country that it had not offered to the governments of all countries.

RIM further said any access it granted governments and local carriers met four criteria – it was legal; the access granted to BlackBerry devices was no greater than that granted to other services; it did not change the security architecture for corporate BlackBerry customers; and it did not make country-specific deals.

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ASEM conference on counter-terrorism conference papers

On 10 and 11 June 2010, the 8th ASEM Conference on Counter-Terrorism was held in Brussels, Belgium. It was hosted by the Belgian Federal Public Service of Foreign Affairs, with the support of the European Union, as part of the preparations for the ASEM 8 Summit on 4 and 5 October 2010.

Jean-Paul Laborde, Director of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF), opened the first session with an overview of the UN Global CT Strategy. The EU CT Coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, gave hereafter an overview of EU counter- terrorism policies. Counter-Terrorism in Asia was discussed during the next session on the basis of substantial contributions by the three co-sponsors China, the Philippines and Viet Nam, as well as from India, the Republic of Korea and Japan. The functioning and operational value of the Belgian Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis (CUTA) were explained by its Director, André Vandoren. On the second day of the conference, ways and means to protect critical infrastructures and advance aviation security were discussed. These were introduced by respectively the European Commission and Viet Nam, the latter with the support of China.

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HRW Analysis of amendments to India’s Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA)

This 20-page report is an analysis of the amendments to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), enacted after the November 26, 2008 attacks on Mumbai that killed 166 people and injured over 300. Comparing them to previous legislation, the report finds that the new amendments contain provisions that are also likely to result in abuse of terrorism suspects and the infringement of basic due process rights.

Maoists ‘killed’ in India’s operation in Jharkhand

Police in the north-eastern Indian state of Jharkhand say they have killed 10 Maoist rebels.

Eight rebel camps were destroyed during what is being described as a major offensive in the Borahat jungles of West Singbhum district, officials said.

Six policemen injured in the operation were airlifted to hospital, police said.

Authorities have been under pressure following a wave of Maoist-led violence in recent months.

In late May, more than 145 people were killed when a train crashed in neighbouring West Bengal state after Maoist rebels allegedly sabotaged the rail track.

Indian forces launched the offensive in what is known as the “red
corridor” – a broad swathe of territory in rural eastern and central India where the Maoist rebellion has been gathering strength.

Nearly 50,000 federal paramilitary troops and tens of thousands of policemen are taking part in the operation in several states, including Jharkhand.

In April, 76 paramilitary troops were killed in an ambush – the single deadliest attack on the Indian security forces by the rebels.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the Maoist insurgency as India’s biggest internal security challenge.