On Monday, November 22, India’s National Investigation Agency arrested prominent Kashmir-based human rights activist Khurram Parvez following a raid at his residence in Srinagar. 44-year-old Parvez is the program coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society which has has played a critical role in highlighting, monitoring and investigating rights abuses in the region, including mass graves and allegations of abuse by the security forces.
The counter-terror agency booked him on at least eight charges under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. According to his wife Sameena Mir, the NIA arrived at their Gupkar residence early in the morning and began to question him. They also confiscated electronic gadgets from the house. The search and raid continued for several hours after which the security personnel “took him along saying he would be shifted to Delhi,” one of Parvez’s relatives said. “Some of the phones of family members were returned that excluded his wife’s phone,” he added.
Parvez is also the chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. His arrest has led to international condemnation from human rights organizations including Amnesty International and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.
Several international rights bodies, including Robert F Kennedy Human Rights, World Organization Again Torture, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, have called for his immediate release. The activist has documented human rights abuses for decades and provided much-needed assistance to the victims, encouraging the Indian government to abide by its international human rights obligations.
According to prominent novelist Mirza Waheed, “Khurram Parvez is someone who’d defend the rights of even those out to persecute him. It’s a travesty that one of Kashmir’s most recognized human rights defenders has been arrested – he should be released from detention without delay.”
Locals and Parvez’s family fear that his arrest is part of a larger pattern of crackdown on dissent in Kashmir. Several rights groups have repeatedly accused the far-right Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of trying to silence voices that do not toe the state line.
The crackdown against human rights defenders and their organizations unfortunately fits a pattern of behavior by the Indian government, noted J H Kobbeltvedt, executive director of Norway-based Rafto Foundation in a statement.
The World Organization Again Torture, a Geneva-based human rights group, stated, “We are deeply concerned about the high risk of torture while in custody. We call for his immediate release.”
Amnesty International in their statement said that Parvez’s arrest is yet another example of how anti-terror laws are being misused to criminalize human rights work and stifle dissent in India. “Instead of targeting human rights defenders, authorities should focus on bringing accountability for human rights violations,”Amnesty said.
Parvez was arrested for the first time in 2016 and held for nearly three months following mass protests witnessed in the region following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Wani.
At that time, he was booked under the controversial Public Safety Act, just a day after he was supposed to travel to Geneva to participate in a UN Human Rights Council session. Even at that time, his arrest led to international condemnation and statements for his release were issued by the United Nations and Amnesty International.
The NIA has previously raided the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society premises and questioned its activists. The agency had raided the premises in October 2020 in connection with a case related to the funding of “secessionist and separatist activities.”
In 2004, Parvez was targeted in an IED blast which injured him badly and killed his colleague Aasia Jeelani. Two years later, he was conferred with the Reebok Human Rights Award.