Several global organisations have demanded the immediate release of Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Parvez, who was arrested on Monday by the National Investigation Agency.
Parvez has been booked under the Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act in a case filed on November 6 under Sections 38 (offence relating to membership of a terrorist organisation) and 40, which covers terror funding, according to the arrest memo seen by Scroll.in.
Charges under Sections 121 (waging, attempting to wage, abetting waging of war against the government), 18B (recruiting of a person for terrorist act) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code have also been invoked in the case.
Parvez is a coordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a union of non-profit campaign and advocacy organisations in Srinagar, and the chairperson of Asian Federation of Involuntary Disappearances, an international human rights organisation focusing on forced disappearance in the continent.
On Wednesday, human rights organisation People’s Union for Civil Liberties called for Parvez’s release and condemned the government’s continued use of UAPA “to arrest, detain and jail human rights defenders for long periods without any trial”.
In a statement, the organisation noted that this was not the first time that the government has targeted Parvez.
“In [the] past few years Indian Government has repeatedly targeted Khurram Parvez, raided his office, home on multiple occasions and even arrested and jailed him,” it said.
The statement said that the government’s actions were another attempt to silence peaceful and non-violent dissenters.
“In the context of what has happened in recent times concerning cases of Bhima Koregaon, Delhi riots, Tripura violence, farmers protest, the toolkit case, Siddique Kappan case and various others across the country, Khurram’s arrest is one more instance of a brutalising state machinery being used against human rights defenders,” it said.
The statement said that the government’s actions were much more extreme in Jammu and Kashmir, where the residents are already subjected to militarisation, long internet shutdowns and use of draconian laws such as UAPA, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Public Safety Act.
“In this context it is very crucial that alternate narratives of ground level reality be brought before the world,” it said. “This is precisely what JKCCSS [Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society] and Khurram were doing.”
Human rights organisation Amnesty International said that Parvez’s arrest was another example of how anti-terror laws were being misused to stifle dissent in India. “Instead of targeting HRDs [human rights defenders], authorities should focus on bringing accountability for human rights violations,” it tweeted.
The World Organization Against Torture said it was deeply concerned about the risk that Parvez would be tortured and called for his immediate release.
“I am hearing disturbing reports that Khurram Parvez was arrested today [November 22] in Kashmir and is at risk of being charged by authorities in India with terrorism-related crimes,” Mary Lawlor, the United Nations special rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders said in tweet. “He is not a terrorist, he is a Human Rights Defender.”
The Rafto Foundation, a non-profit body that focuses on promoting human rights, said that the charges against Parvez lack credibility.
Director of the Rafto Foundation Jostein Hole Kobbeltvedt said that this organisation has worked closely with Parvez and the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society for four years.
“Their denouncement of political violence has been vehement and absolute, whenever the subject of other actors perpetrating such acts came up,” Kobbeltvedt said. “All their work has been directed towards raising awareness about human rights violations by peaceful and democratic means.”
The organisation added that India has declined to engage in a discussion on various allegations reported by civil society and international organisations.
“Scores of Indian civil society organisations addressing human rights questions of one kind or another have been subjected to constraints on their funding, harassment in the media or by government, and what appears to be frivolous legal prosecution,” it added.
It also appealed to the United Nations to express their unequivocal condemnation on the persecution of human rights activists in India.