NEW DELHI: Around 50 human rights organisations have called for the immediate and unconditional release of Kashmiri human rights defenders, Khurram Parvez and Irfan Meraj. In a joint statement, they demanded that all charges against the two human rights activists be dropped.
Appealing for an end to all kind of harassment against human rights defenders and civil society organisations, they called upon the Indian government to amend the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) to bring it in conformity with international human rights laws and standards, end the criminalisation of human rights defenders and journalists; and ensure accountability for human rights violations committed by security forces in Kashmir.
Khurram Parvez, Co-ordinator of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies, was arrested two years ago and Irfan Mehraj, a human rights activists and journalist, was detained in March 2023. Both are presently detained in the Rohini jail in Tihar, Delhi.
Khurram was arrested on November 22, 2021 by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s counter-terrorism agency, on various charges including “waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India,” “punishment for conspiracy to wage war against the Government of India,” “raising funds for terror activities,” “punishment for conspiracy,” and other provisions of the UAPA and the Indian Penal Code. He was arrested after raids and seizures conducted at his office and home by the NIA on November 21, 2021.
In March 2023, another case was registered against Khurram was arrested again in another case related to “terror financing”. Independent journalist Irfan Mehraj, who was formerly associated with JKCCS, was also arrested in the same case. The NIA filed a chargesheet against Khurram and Irfan in this case on September 15, 2023.
The joint statement deplored Khurram’s prolonged detention and described the charges against him as “politically motivated” under “UAPA that violates international human rights standards”. It said that the “persecution of Khurram and Irfan is an emblematic part of their ongoing, systematic criminalization of civil society, and the defense of human rights” in Kashmir.
Khurram is the Coordinator of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and presently the Deputy Secretary-General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). He has, for years, documented human rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir, including enforced disappearances and unlawful killings. He was awarded the 2022 Martin Ennals Award for his tireless human rights work.
The statement said, “The UAPA, has been increasingly abused by Indian authorities to bring politically motivated charges against human rights defenders. UN experts in May 2020 expressed their concerns about various provisions of the UAPA and its non-conformity with international human rights laws and standards. The experts noted that provisions in the UAPA such as the powers to detain a person for up to 180 days “without providing any evidence” were particularly problematic and highlighted Section 43 D (5) of the UAPA, which makes it “highly unlikely” for a person arrested under this law to be released on bail.”
It adds, “On 31 October 2023, UN experts again raised concerns about the UAPA, stating that the pre-trial detention period of 180 days, which can subsequently be increased, is beyond reasonable and called for a review of the UAPA in line with international human rights standards and with recommendations made by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).”
It further adds, “The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) in its opinion published in June 2023, said that Khurram’s detention was “arbitrary” and called on the Indian authorities to immediately release him.”
The joint statement expressed concern that “reprisals and judicial harassment against Khurram are occurring within a larger context of systematic, longstanding, grave human rights violations by Indian authorities” and “impunity for those violations”.
“Since the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution in August 2019, Indian authorities have forcibly closed the already highly restricted civic space in the region. Journalists continue to face targeted harassment including arrests, travel bans, and passport suspensions for their reporting. Access to information is severely restricted through arbitrary internet shutdowns,” the statement added.
Demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Khurram Parvez and Irfan Meraj, the statement also called upon the Indian government to immediately comply with their international legal obligations, by allowing civil society to freely operate. The statement also called upon the Indian authorities to “cease their longstanding obstruction of international civil society and inter-governmental organisations, including the UN Special Rapporteurs and other human rights mechanisms”. The statement demanded unfettered access to Kashmir and Kashmiri detainees.
The following organisations are the signatories to the joint statement:
Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN)
Armanshahr Foundation / OPEN ASIA, Afghanistan
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Association marocaine des droits humains (AMDH), Morocco
Awaz Foundation Pakistan: Centre for Development Services (AWAZCDS), Pakistan
Banglar Manabadhikar Surakshya Mancha(MASUM), India
Bytes for All, Pakistan
Capital Punishment Justice Project (CPJP)
Center for Prisoners’ Rights, Japan
Centro de Políticas Públicas y Derechos Humanos (Perú EQUIDAD), Peru
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Civil Society And Human Rights Network, Afghanistan
Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, Mexico
Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), Northern Ireland
Dakila – Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism, Philippines
Defence of Human Rights, Pakistan
FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders (FLD)
Globe International Center, Mongolia
Human Rights Alert, India
Human Rights Association (Insan Haklari Dernegi IHD), Turkiye
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Pakistan
Human Rights Online Philippines (HRonlinePH), Philippines
Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), Nepal
IMPARSIAL (The Indonesian Human Rights Monitor), Indonesia
Justiça Global, Brazil
Kashmir Law and Justice Project
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR), Kazakhstan
League for Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI), Iran
Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH), France
Madaripur Legal Aid Association (MLAA), Bangladesh
Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), Maldives
National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), Pakistan
Organisation National pour les droit de l’Homme, Senegal
Pusat KOMAS, Malaysia
Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), Bangladesh
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Malaysia
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), Philippines
The Awakening, Pakistan
Think Centre, Singapore
Tunisian Association of Women Democrats (ATFD), Tunisia
Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), Vietnam
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders