Srinagar: Government forces in Kashmir blocked medical care for injured protestors by firing on ambulances, holding up emergency vehicles and preying on hospital patients during clashes in the restive region this year, a health rights group said on Tuesday.
At least 97 civilians were killed and more than 15,000 wounded in five months of clashes between protestors and security forces, sparked by the killing of a top militant commander by the government forces on July 8.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), in a 23-page report published online, said not only did police and paramilitary forces use excessive force during the unrest, they also delayed wounded people seeking medical attention, increasing the likelihood of permanent injuries and deaths.
“… (T)he authorities’ lack of respect for the right to health – including respecting health professionals’ independence and ability to treat those injured by police action – has actively obstructed access to urgent medical care for the wounded, and prevented many of those injured from seeking additional treatment for fear of identification and arrest by police patrolling hospitals and clinics,” the report said, adding, “What’s more, the doctors we interviewed said police were present in their hospitals, intimidating patients and monitoring those being admitted.”
The report also said security forces harassed medical workers attempting to treat protestors and prevented doctors from reaching the hospitals where they work.
Police in Kashmir said they would respond to the allegations once they had studied the PHR report, a news gathering said on Tuesday.
Many of those killed in the clashes died from shotgun pellets or rifle bullets fired by police and paramilitary troops. Hundreds of bystanders were blinded by the pellet rounds, the report said.
Police in Kashmir say pellet guns are non-lethal weapons but they have been fired from short distances in “unavoidable circumstances” when protestors target security forces.
PHR’s report – based on hospital records and interviews with doctors, witnesses and victims – found police used 12-gauge shotguns loaded with metal pellets that directly caused an estimated 5,200 injuries and at least a dozen deaths.
“Injuries inflicted by ‘less than lethal’ weapons like pellets, rubber bullets, and shot guns require early medical intervention to avoid permanent or debilitating injury, including loss of life,” said the report.
“In Kashmir, delays in accessing medical care for hundreds of injured protestors increased the risk of permanent damage, including for those with eye injuries.”