Following the arrest of 32-year-old Kashmiri journalist Irfan Mehraj by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA), several journalists’ bodies, rights organizations, and members of civil society have strongly condemned the misuse of the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in the Union Territory.
“Irfan Mehraj’s arrest continues a trend in Kashmir of security forces arresting journalists because of their critical reporting of the establishment,” the Editors Guild of India responded.
Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, expressed her deep concern about the journalist as well. “He was called to come to the [NIA] office in Srinagar and arrested in a 2020 case, accused of serious offenses. I call for his immediate release,” she tweeted.
Aakar Patel, the Chairperson of Amnesty International’s Board in India, termed Mehraj’s arrest under “terror charges” a “travesty” and yet another example of the repression and crackdown on media and civil rights in Jammu and Kashmir.
While demanding Mehraj’s immediate release, the Press Club of India said that the use of the draconian UAPA in his arrest “ominously [pointed] towards a violation of freedom of speech and expression.”
“…His arrest seems to be another tactic of intimidating journalists in Kashmir who have always worked under perilous conditions, holding up values of press freedom in the face of dangers to life and liberty… This is not the first time journalists from Kashmir have been arrested/harassed/questioned. Summons for questioning and denial of their fundamental right to travel for professional, academic and personal reasons is part of the tactic,” the Journalist Federation of Kashmir (JFK) said in a statement.
Journalist Federation of Kashmir condemns the arrest of a prominent journalist Irfan Mehraj on March 20, 2023 by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
Mehraj was arrested in Srinagar and then shifted to New Delhi.
— Journalist Federation of Kashmir (@pressfreedomJFK) March 21, 2023
An editor at TwoCircles.net, Irfan Mehraj is a resident of Srinagar. He has been a founding editor of Wande Magazine and a regular contributor to several international media publications. His former association with the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a noted rights body in Srinagar city, where he worked as a researcher and contributed to several critical reports, is what seems to have drawn the ire of the authorities.
Among all the editors that I have worked with, Irfan has been the most supportive and kind. I have learned a lot working with him. It breaks my heart knowing that a brilliant reporter and editor like him can be targeted for merely doing his job. https://t.co/g9INcZ2cuD
— Vipul Kumar (@vipulizm) March 21, 2023
The state has accused the JKCCS of funding “terror-related activities” and having “links with militant outfits.” The NIA has issued summons to Mehraj for questioning several times since last year.
In a statement, the NIA has called him a “close associate” of noted activist Khurram Parvez, a program coordinator at JKCCS, who also was arrested under similar charges in November 2021. Ever since the Narendra Modi-led right-wing government revoked the autonomous status of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir (converting it into a Union territory directly under the Center) in August 2019, the state apparatus has cracked down on critics of the government. This has been done by arresting or detaining those critical of the establishment, as well as silencing and shutting down communication channels across the region.
The NIA statement also alleged, “Investigation revealed that the JKCCS was funding terror activities in the valley and had also been in propagation of secessionist agenda in the [Kashmir] Valley under the garb of protection of human rights.”
After his arrest in Srinagar, Mehraj was transported to Delhi, where he was produced before the Patiala House Court. The court has remanded him to 10 days of NIA custody.
Along with several other unions, such as the All India Lawyers Association for Justice, the JFK has strongly condemned this pattern of intimidation, and views it as a continued attack on press freedom in Kashmir. “Three journalists from Kashmir—Asif Sultan, Sajad Gul and Fahad Shah—are already in jail,” the JFK added.