Activists and rights groups have condemned Indian agency’s raids on non-governmental organisations, activists and journalists in Indian-administered Kashmir, national capital New Delhi and the southern city of Bengaluru over alleged “terror funding” in the disputed region.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) conducted a series of raids in those places on Wednesday and Thursday, accusing several “non-profit groups and charitable trusts” of collecting funds and using them for “carrying out secessionist and separatist activities”.
India’s crackdown on Kashmiri rebels, leaders and activists has escalated since August 2019 when New Delhi scrapped the special status of the Muslim-majority region, also claimed by Pakistan.
Among those raided were Kashmir-based rights activists Khurram Parvez and Parveena Ahangar, the office of the Greater Kashmir newspaper, the house of Agence France-Presse’s (AFP) Kashmir correspondent Parvaiz Bukhari, and the properties of former Delhi Minority Commission chairman Zafarul Islam Khan in the national capital.
The groups raided by the NIA included the Falah-e-Aam Trust, Charity Alliance, Human Welfare Foundation, JK Yateem Foundation, Salvation Movement, and J&K Voice of Victims.
Khan, 72, who heads the New Delhi-based Charity Alliance, told Al Jazeera the NIA’s allegation of his NGO funding terror in Indian-administered Kashmir was a “Himalayan lie”.
“Apart from some relief work like sending medicines, blankets and giving some very small monetary help to flood victims, we have no work worth mention in Kashmir,” he wrote.
Calling the raids “well-planned and choreographed”, Khan said he had “no contacts” with Kashmiri rebels and has not visited the region in many years.
The former Delhi state minority panel chief accused the government led by right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of targeting him for his report on the religious violence in the city earlier this year – the worst in decades, which killed at least 53 people, most of them Muslims.
“They are trying to penalise me for my work in the Delhi Minorities Commission, especially the report on the northeast Delhi riots,” Khan said.
The NIA raids were also criticised by global rights watchdogs.
The Human Rights Watch on Friday said the BJP government was using “counterterrorism operations to silence peaceful dissenters, human rights activists, and journalists” by bringing in “politically motivated criminal cases” against them.
“Using authoritarian tactics against outspoken critics and journalists needs to stop,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW’s South Asia director.
Another statement released by the Amnesty International on Thursday said there was a “worrying pattern” in India where anti-terror and foreign funding laws were “being repeatedly and deliberately weaponised to intimidate, harass and restrict the ability of civil society groups from operating”.
“These raids are an alarming reminder that India’s government is determined to suppress all dissenting voices in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Amnesty’s Julie Verhaar.
The raids came days after Indian authorities sealed the office of an English daily, the Kashmir Times, causing outrage from journalists and condemnation from global media watchdogs.
Last week, the office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called out India’s “problematic” and “vaguely-worded” laws that are increasingly being used to quell voices in civil society.
The three such laws Bachelet identified were the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Last month, Amnesty International’s India office said it was forced to halt its work after its bank accounts were frozen by the government over alleged FCRA violations.
India’s Hindu nationalist government has used the stringent UAPA to arrest and jail dozens of Muslim activists who had protested against the passage of the CAA in December last year.
The law fast-tracks Indian nationality for all minorities from neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, except Muslims, a provision critics say is unconstitutional.
Bilal Kuchay contributed to this report.