India arrests prominent Kashmir rights activist under terror law

India’s National Investigation Agency arrests Khurram Parvez under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for ‘terror-funding’.

Khurram Parvez
Rights activist Khurram Parvez, left, speaks with lawyer Parvez Imroz inside the office of Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society in Srinagar [File: Dar Yasin/AP]

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – India’s top anti-terrorism investigation agency has arrested prominent Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez under a stringent terror law following a day-long raid at his office and residence in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Parvez on Monday evening after carrying out searches for more than 15 hours at his home and the office of the Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) in the region’s main city of Srinagar.

Parvez, 42, is the programme coordinator at JKCCS, which he founded with another activist Parvez Imroz in 2000. He is also the chairman of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD).

“They confiscated his phone, laptop, my phone and some books from the library. Our two children are in trauma … We were all asleep when the raid started,” Parvez’s wife Sameena Mir told Al Jazeera.

Mir said Parvez was summoned to the NIA office in Srinagar on Monday afternoon for questioning from where he was formally arrested under various sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code for “terror funding” and other charges.

Human rights abuse

The UAPA is vaguely-worded legislation that effectively allows people to be held without trial indefinitely and convictions under the law are rare.

“He has been booked under so many cases in the past and now there are new cases. More than a shock, this is all very normal here now,” Mir said. “It is all because of his human rights work.”

For more than 20 years, Parvez had been vocal about highlighting human rights abuses in Indian-administered Kashmir by the Indian forces. His organisation has published a series of reports detailing the “impunity enjoyed by the armed forces” in the disputed region.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by India and Pakistan, who rule over parts of it.

An armed rebellion against New Delhi’s rule began on the Indian side 30 years ago, with the rebels demanding either the region’s merger with Pakistan or independence.

The conflict intensified after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrapped the region’s limited autonomy and split it into two federal territories in 2019.

The controversial move was followed by the imposition of a months-long security lockdown, and the arrests of hundreds of Kashmiri politicians, lawyers and activists.

Since 2019, at least 2,300 people have been arrested under the UAPA in the region. Almost half of them are still in prison.

While the NIA did not immediately issue a statement over Parvez’s arrest, a local official confirmed the charges against the activist to Al Jazeera.

This was not the first NIA raid at Parvez’s office and residence. In October last year, the agency conducted similar searches at the JKCCS office and his residence.

The home and office of another rights activist Parveena Ahanger, who is the founder of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) that fights cases of enforced disappearances in Indian-administered Kashmir, was also raided.

In its many reports, the JKCCS has exposed human rights violations by the Indian security forces including torture, extrajudicial killings, and unmarked mass graves.

‘Impunity enjoyed by the armed forces’

Last week, the group had raised questions on the killing of four people, including two civilians, during a gunfight with suspected rebels in a shopping complex in Srinagar.

The bodies of the four people were hurriedly buried by Indian authorities in a graveyard 80km (50 miles) away from Srinagar, as part of a recent practice of denying bodies of suspected rebels or their alleged “associates” to their families for burial.

On Thursday night, following angry protests by the families of three of the victims of last week’s shoot-out, Indian authorities exhumed two of the bodies and returned them to their families for proper burial according to Islamic traditions.

Parvez had been vocal about highlighting alleged rights abuses in India’s only Muslim-majority region by the Indian security forces. His organisation has published a series of reports detailing the “impunity enjoyed by the armed forces” in the region.

In February 2019, the JKCCS came up with a detailed report on torture by the security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir. In December the same year, the group’s annual Human Rights Review Report highlighted rights abuses committed by authorities after the region’s special status was scrapped.

In 2016, Parvez was barred from travelling to Switzerland to participate in a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

A day later, he was booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a law under which a person can be detained for a year without trial. He was released after 76 days of imprisonment.

It was during this detention that the AFAD, headed by him, won the 2016 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award for its work on enforced disappearances in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Parvez, who is also the recipient of the 2006 Reebok Human Rights Award, lost one of his legs during a landmine blast while he was monitoring the 2004 parliamentary elections. One of his colleagues Asiya Jeelani lost her life in the incident.

Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said Parvez’s arrest is “a really troubling development”.

“We have seen human rights defenders arrested on counterterror charges earlier and it is really unfortunate that Indian authorities continue to abuse a law, designed with draconian powers to protect the public from harm, to instead target those that speak for fundamental rights like an end to torture and extrajudicial killings,” she told Al Jazeera.

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), a global network of more than 200 non-governmental organisations or NGOs, said it was “deeply concerned about the high risk of torture while in custody”.

“We call for his immediate release,” the group said in a tweet.

In another tweet, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, said Parvez’s arrest was “disturbing”.

“I am hearing disturbing reports that Khurram Parvez was arrested today in Kashmir and is risk of being charged by authorities in India with terrorism-related crimes,” she posted.

“He is not a terrorist, he’s a human rights defender.”

Source: Al Jazeera