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India arrests Kashmir's leading human rights activist under 'anti-terror law'

A file photo shows Khurram Parvez, a prominent human rights activist in the disputed Indian-controlled Kashmir, who was arrested by India forces on November 22, 2021.

Indian security forces have arrested a prominent human rights campaigner in Indian-controlled Kashmir, a week after the rights group he works for decried recent civilian killings in Srinagar, the disputed region’s summer capital.

Personnel from the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India's notorious counter-terrorism task force, arrested Khurram Parvez from his home in Srinagar on Monday, his family told media persons.

Parvez has been booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the primary and much-maligned counter-terror law in India, and multiple other charges under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the official criminal code of India dating back to the colonial era.

The case has been filed under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 121 (waging war against the government of India) and 121A (punishment for conspiracy to wage war against the government of India) of the Indian Penal Code and sections 17 (raising funds for terror activities), 18 (punishment for conspiracy), 18B (recruiting any person or persons for commission of a terrorist act), 38 (offence relating to membership of a terrorist organisation) and 40 (offence of raising fund for a terrorist organisation) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, according to his arrest memo.

Parvez is the program coordinator for the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) – an umbrella group of various rights organizations and individuals based in the disputed territory – and chairperson of the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD).

His family told media persons that the NIA officials carried out a raid at his residence in Srinagar before taking him along for interrogation.

The NIA was assisted by local police and paramilitary personnel, who confiscated his mobile phone, laptop and some books as well as his wife’s cell phone, reports said.

The NIA has not issued any statement on the arrest of Parvez so far. His family was given the arrest memo late on Monday, according to local sources. He is likely to be flown to New Delhi on Tuesday.

Prominent figure

Parvez, 44, a renowned human rights campaigner who has been felicitated internationally for his work, has extensively worked on documenting the abuses allegedly committed both by Indian security forces and militants in the disputed Himalayan region.

His organization JKCCS has published several reports on human rights abuses in Kashmir. Its last report, ‘Kashmir’s Internet Siege’ focused on mass detentions and breakdown of the judicial system in Jammu and Kashmir in the aftermath of the scrapping of Article 370 in 2019.

Parvez is partially disabled. He lost a leg in a powerful explosion in 2004 while heading to a polling station to monitor the parliamentary election. His colleague and senior journalist, Asiya Geelani, was killed in the explosion.

In 2016, he was imprisoned for 76 days under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA), a day after he was stopped from flying to Switzerland to take part in a session of the UN Human Rights Council.

His office was one of the ten locations raided by the NIA last year in connection with a case related to the funding of “secessionist and separatist activities”, accusing them of receiving money from undisclosed donors for terror activities.

Parvez’s arrest comes days after the JKCCS decried Indian security forces for killing civilians and using them as ‘human shield’ during an alleged “encounter” in Srinagar last week.

Outrage over arrest

Parvez’s arrest has drawn widespread outrage and condemnation from human rights organizations and individuals across the globe.

A senior United Nations official said she was “disturbed” by the reports about his arrest.

“I’m hearing disturbing reports that Khurram Parvez was arrested today in Kashmir & is at risk of being charged by authorities in India with terrorism-related crimes. He’s not a terrorist, he’s a human rights defender,” Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, tweeted.

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), a global network of over 200 NGOs fighting for human rights and against torture, in a statement called for his immediate release.

“Rights defender Khurram Parvez detained for questioning after his house & office were raided by National Investigation Agency officials. We are deeply concerned about the high risk of torture while in custody,” it said.

Netherlands-based human rights organization, Rafto Foundation, termed it “disturbing news”.

“Kashmiri Human Rights Defender and Rafto Laureate 2017 Khurram Parvez arrested today (22 Nov). We appeal to Indian authorities to release him from detention without delay,” the statement said.

Kashmir’s pro-independence conglomerate Hurriyat Conference also condemned the arrest of Parvez and called upon the authorities to “release him immediately and desist from this campaign of mass incarceration in Kashmir.”

Prominent Indian activist and politician, Kavita Krishnan, said Parvez and his organization have done “quiet work in grim circumstances.”

“The NIA raid on JKCCS & arrest of Khurram are an attempt by the Modi regime to gag those witnessing & documenting the unrelenting rights violations in J&K,” she said in a Twitter post.

At least 2,300 people have been arrested under the vaguely worded UAPA law, which effectively allows people to be held without trial indefinitely, and has been extensively used in the Indian-controlled territory since the government of India revoked the region’s special status in 2019.

Kashmir has been split between estranged neighbors India and Pakistan since the partition of British India in 1947. Both countries claim all of Kashmir and have fought three wars over the territory.

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