The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has called for the immediate release of Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez, who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on November 22, and charged under various provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
PUCL has stated that it “condemned the relentless use of UAPA by Indian Government to arrest, detain and jail human rights defenders for long periods without any trial.” The arrest memo lists the sections that have been invoked against Khurram Parvez: 120B, 121 and 121A of IPC (pertaining to waging war against the Government) and sections 17, 18, 18B, 38 and 40 (pertaining to terrorist activities and being member of terrorist organization) of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) Act, 1967.
The solidarity statement recalled that, in the past few years, the Indian Government has “repeatedly targeted Khurram Parvez, raided his office, home on multiple occasions and even arrested and jailed him. In September 2016 immigration authorities had disallowed him from boarding a flight to Geneva. Mr Khurram was then travelling to attend the thirty-third session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. He was later immediately detained and arrested in Srinagar. Four days later, the principal district and sessions judge of Srinagar set aside his order of detention and ordered his release. But as soon as he was released, he was rearrested, under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978—a law, applicable only in Jammu and Kashmir, which allows an individual to be taken into preventive custody for two years without any charges or a trial. Seventy six days later, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court quashed his detention as “illegal”.”
The HC had noted that the district magistrate of Srinagar, had acted “arbitrarily” and the “detaining authority has abused its powers.” However, in October 2020, Parvez and JKCSS were raided by the NIA again. “Being unable to prove even before the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir their case for arrest and detention of Khurram Parvez, the Indian State has used its ultimate weapon of invoking UAPA, a legislation which has very harsh bail condition, which allows Government to jail the arrested dissenters without trial for many years,” stated PUCL.
It recalled that Khurram Parvez the coordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAID) is also a Distinguished Scholar with the Political Conflict, Gender, and People’s Rights Initiative at the Center for Race and Gender at University of California, Berkeley.
“JKCCS has acted as the conscience of society and published several reports on human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir over the decades. The reports range from election monitoring, impact of violence on children, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, torture, to environmental disasters,” stated PUCL adding that it “firmly believes that the present action is one more attempt on part of the present establishment to silence peaceful, non violent dissenters. In the context of what has happened in recent times concerning cases of Bhima Koregaon, Delhi riots, Tripura violence, farmers protest, the tool kit case, Siddique Kappan case and various others across the country, Khurram’s arrest is one more instance of a brutalizing state machinery being used against human rights defenders.”
It stated that this was “all the more significant in the context of Jammu and Kashmir, where the Central Government steamrolled the State’s autonomy guaranteed under Article 370 of the Constitution without taking into account the democratic aspirations of the people of the State and the converting of Jammu and Kashmir into a union territory directly ruled from Delhi with complete bulldozing of all human rights of the ordinary people. The population has been already subjected to other massive violations including total militarization, long internet shutdowns, use of draconian laws such as Public Safety Act, AFSPA and UAPA.”
According to PUCL, it was the “ground level reality” that JKCCSS and Khurram Parvez were bringing before the world and that his arrest “is not just an attack on him or JKCCS but an effort to stop any voices concerning human rights violations from Jammu and Kashmir being allowed to be heard in the larger world.” The PUCl called it an “an ominous illustration of the implications of the doctrine of the national security adviser Ajit Doval that civil society is the “new frontier of war” and said that such arrests will have a “chilling effect on any independent voice emerging from civil society and a further indication of a government mindset which is uninterested in any political resolution.”
It has stated that the of arrest of voices like Khurram Parvez “demonstrates the governments contempt for international law which it has itself undertaken to respect and will only further alienate the people of Kashmir and make the political solution to the Kashmir issue that much more distant,” adding that, it also “emboldens the state in continuing to ride roughshod over the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is the tragic failure of the Supreme Court to hear the challenges to the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.”