UN calls for release of Kashmir rights defender Khurram Parvez

Parvez, 44, coordinator of a local human rights group, was arrested on November 22 by India’s anti-terror investigation agency.

Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol during an operation in Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir [File: Dar Yasin/AP Photo]

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – The United Nations has expressed concern over the arrest of a prominent Kashmiri rights activist under the stringent “anti-terror” law by the Indian authorities and has called for his release.

“We are deeply concerned at the arrest of Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez under Indian counter-terrorism legislation, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA),” the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a statement on Wednesday.

Under the UAPA, a person can be detained for months without charge.

The UN rights body has demanded amendment in the law to bring it in line with the international human rights law and standards.

Parvez, 44, who is the coordinator of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a local human rights group, was arrested on November 22 by India’s top anti-terror investigation agency – National Investigation Agency (NIA) – and was booked under the UAPA and the Indian Penal Code for “terror funding” and other charges.

He was arrested after the NIA carried out raids at his residence and office in Srinagar, the main city in the Muslim-majority region, which has seen an armed rebellion against Indian rule.

New Delhi rejects UN statement

India’s foreign ministry on Thursday said the UN statement on Parvez’s arrest “makes baseless and unfounded allegations against law enforcement authorities and security forces of India” and “betrays a complete lack of understanding” on the part of the UN body regarding the “security challenges faced by India from cross-border terrorism”.

“The arrest and subsequent detention of the individual (Parvez) referred to in the statement was done entirely as per provisions of law,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Arindam Bagchi said in a statement.

India’s statement also objected to the usage of the word “armed groups” by OHCHR for Kashmiri rebels. “Referring to proscribed terrorist organisations as ‘armed groups’ demonstrates a clear bias on the part of OHCHR.”

Defending the UAPA, the statement said the law was “enacted by the Parliament to protect the sovereignty of India and ensure security of its citizens”.

The arrest of Parvez – the recipient of the 2006 Reebok Human Rights Award – has been widely criticised by rights groups around the globe including Amnesty International.

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

Parvez has been moved to a jail in the Indian capital New Delhi.

Anuradha Bhasin, a journalist and political analyst based in Kashmir, termed the crackdown as an attempt to “silence” activists.

“This is being done to silence the human rights activists,” Bhasin told Al Jazeera, referring to Parvez’s arrest under the draconian law.

“Already, the government has crushed the media in Kashmir,” she said, referring to the crackdown on journalists and media organisations in Kashmir.

“These things are not good for India as it wants to project itself as the largest democracy in the world. They must rethink their choices,” she said.

Rights groups have accused Kashmir’s regional administration, which is directly run from New Delhi, of targeting local human rights activists and organisations. Last year, the office of another rights group, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), was raided by the NIA.

At least 2,300 people have been booked under the UAPA in the last two years, according to official figures.

“The Act is also increasingly being used to stifle the work of human rights defenders, journalists and other critics in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India,” the UN rights group said.

JKCCS, led by Parvez has published a number of reports on the human rights violations in the decades of Kashmir conflict and the “impunity enjoyed by the Indian-armed forces” in the region.

India has stationed more than half a million troops in the Himalayan region, making it one of the most militarised zones in the world. New Delhi says the troops are there to quell the armed rebellion.

Kashmiri rebels have been fighting for independence or merger of the territory with Pakistan since the late 1980s. India says Pakistan backs armed groups – a charge denied by Islamabad.

The conflict in the region has intensified since 2019, when the governing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government stripped the region of its limited autonomy.

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

Justifying Parvez’s arrest, the BJP government said it acted as “they have proof about the person’s involvement”.

“The government or any of its agencies will not touch a person till they don’t have proof. Some people do illegal work in the garb of being rights activists,” Ashok Kaul, BJP’s spokesman in Kashmir, told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera