SINGAPORE - (Reuters) - Indian security forces fighting a 20-year insurgency in Kashmir beat suspects, subjected them to electric current and tortured them with water in widespread human rights abuses, the Red Cross told the U.S. embassy according to a leaked diplomatic cable.
The 2005 cable, released by WikiLeaks and published by the Guardian, documents systematic prisoner abuse by Indian police and paramilitary forces based on visits the International Red Cross made to detention centres in Kashmir and elsewhere between 2002-2004.
It said that among 1,500 detainees that the Red Cross staff met, more than half reported “ill-treatment.” Of the 852 cases the agency recorded, 171 detainees said they had been beaten, while the rest said they had been subjected to one or more of six forms of torture.
These included use of electricity on suspects, suspending them from the ceiling and putting a roller or a round metal object on the thighs of the person and then having somebody sit on it, crushing muscles. Others had their legs stretched 180 degrees, or were subjected to various forms of water torture. More than 300 cases of sexual abuse were reported.
“There is regular and widespread use of IT (ill-treatment) and torture by security forces during interrogation. This always takes place in the presence of officers,” the cable said.
The Red Cross said that it had raised the issue of prisoner abuse with the Indian government for more than a decade, but because the practice continued, “it is forced to conclude that the GOI condones torture.”
Although the allegations relate to 2002 to 2004, they are likely to ruffle feathers in the Indian government, which bristles at any external involvement in Kashmir which it considers an integral part of the country.
They disclosures come at a time when popular anger is simmering in Kashmir over abuse by security forces, even though militant violence that New Delhi blames on Pakistan has fallen.
This summer the Kashmir Valley, at the heart of 60 years of hostility between India and Pakistan, saw the biggest student protests against Indian rule in decades after a 17-year-old died when he was hit by a police tear gas shell.
The region has since quietened, and India says it will release the contours of a political solution to the protests in a few months, which some analysts say will involve greater autonomy for the region.
Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables also reveal that India remained steadfast in its belief that the Mumbai attacks of 2008 carried out by Pakistan-based militants had some kind of support from Pakistan security agencies and that Islamabad had done very little to act against the guilty.
According to a January 2009 cable, the Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon reacted strongly to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Richard Boucher saying during a meeting that Washington had not yet reached the conclusion that the Pakistani security agencies were directly involved in the attacks, carried out by the Lashkar-e-Taiba group.
“Let’s not insult one another by telling a story that the Pakistan Army was not involved,” said Menon, according to the cable.
“The Pakistan Army paid wages to Lashkar-e-Taiba and sustained the organisation, and until these ties were severed, India would continue to regard the Pakistani security services as complicit in the Mumbai attacks,” the cable quoted Menon as saying.
Menon concluded, “They’re either unwilling to take action, or incapable, or both; any way you look at it, they’re involved.”
Another U.S. embassy cable quoted Indian Home Minister P.Chidambaram as telling FBI Director Robert Mueller in February this year Pakistan had “done damn near nothing” to prosecute the Mumbai suspects.
Pakistan denies state involvement and has put seven men on trial over the attacks.
Editing by Alex Richardson