Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

Srinagar, Kashmir administered by India India’s top counter-terrorism investigation agency has arrested prominent Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez under a strict terrorism law after a day-long raid on his Indian-run office and residence in Kashmir.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Parvez on Monday night after conducting 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 capital, Srinagar.

Parvez, 42, is the program coordinator at JKCCS, which he co-founded with other 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 a few 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 Prevention of Illegal Activities Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code for “terrorist funding” and other charges.

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

“In the past he was booked under so many cases and now there are new cases. “More than a shock, it’s all very normal here now,” said Mir. “It’s all because of his human rights work.”

For more than 20 years, Parvez has been outspoken about the emphasis on human rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir by Indian forces. His organization has published a series of reports outlining 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, which 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 amalgamation with Pakistan or independence.

The conflict escalated 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 month-long security lock-up, 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. Nearly half of them are still in jail.

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

This was not the first NIA raid on Parvez’s office and residence. In October last year, the agency similar searches performed 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) which is fighting cases of forced disappearances in Kashmir administered by India, have also been 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.

Last week, the group raised questions about the murder of four people, including two civilians, during a shootout with suspected rebels in a shopping complex in Srinagar.

The bodies of the four people were hastily buried by Indian authorities in a cemetery 80 km (50 miles) away from Srinagar, as part of a recent practice to deny bodies of suspected rebels or their alleged “comrades” to their families for funeral.

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

Parvez was outspoken over the emphasis on alleged rights violations in India’s only Muslim majority region by the Indian security forces. His organization has published a series of reports outlining 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 Kashmir administered by Indians. In December of that year, the group’s annual Human Rights Review Report highlighted the violations of rights committed by authorities after the region’s special status was scrapped.

In 2016, Parvez was banned from traveling to Switzerland to attend 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 exempt after 76 days of imprisonment.

It was during this detention that the AFAD, under his leadership, won the 2016 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award for his work on forced disappearances in Kashmir administered by India.

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

Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asian director of Human Rights Watch, said Parvez’s arrest was “a very worrying development”.

“We have seen human rights defenders arrested earlier on charges of counter-terrorism and it is really unfortunate that Indian authorities continue to abuse a law designed with draconian powers to protect the public from harm, rather than targeting those who “fundamental rights speak, such as an end to torture and extrajudicial killings,” she told Al Jazeera.

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

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

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

“I hear disturbing reports that Khurram Parvez was arrested in Kashmir today and runs the risk of being charged by Indian authorities with terrorism-related crimes,” she said.

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

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