Srinagar: The UN Human Rights Commissioner’s office has raised the issue of the arrest of Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Parvez by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA).
The human rights body added that it is "deeply concerned" of the same, and has urged the Indian authorities to “fully safeguard his right to freedom of expression, association and personal liberty, and to take the precautionary step of releasing him”.
The UNHRC's statements comes days after NIA had formally arrested Mr. Parvez on November 22, saying that the case in which he has been involved “pertains to certain so-called NGOs and trusts raising funds in India and abroad in the name of charitable activities and then using those funds for carrying out secessionist and separatist activities in Jammu and Kashmir”.
The NIA added that they had registered a case on October 8, 2020, under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the UAPA on receiving “credible information that certain NGOs and trusts are collecting funds domestically and abroad through so-called donations and business contributions" and then using them to fund terror activities in J&K”.
Rupert Colville, spokesperson at the Geneva-based UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ office said on Thursday, “We are deeply concerned at the arrest of Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez under Indian counter-terrorism legislation, the UAPA.” “Parvez, who has now been in custody for more than a week, is accused of terrorism-related offences. We are unaware of the factual basis of the charges," he added.
“He is known as a tireless advocate for families of the disappeared and has been targeted before for his human rights work. In 2016, he was detained under another controversial law, the Public Safety Act, for two and a half months after being prevented from travelling to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. He was released after the Jammu and Kashmir High Court declared his detention illegal," Colville said.
However, Colville asserted that the UAPA contains a vague and overly broad definition of ‘terrorist act’ and allows people to be held in lengthy pre-trial detention and makes securing bail very difficult.
“It raises serious concerns relating to the right of presumption of innocence along with other due process and fair trial rights,” he said, alleging that the Act is also increasingly being used to stifle the work of human rights defenders, journalists and other critics in J&K and other parts of India.
He said, “In view of this context of previous reprisal for legitimate conduct, we call on the Indian authorities to fully safeguard his right to freedom of expression, association and personal liberty and to take the precautionary step of releasing him”.
He reiterated the UN Human Rights Commission’s call for the UAPA to be amended to bring it into line with international human rights law and standards, and urged the authorities, pending the law’s amendment, “to refrain from using this or other laws unduly restricting freedom of expression in cases involving civil society, media, and human rights defenders”.
Colville also said that against this backdrop, the UN Human Rights Office is increasingly alarmed by the rise in killings of civilians, including members of religious minorities, by armed groups in J&K this year. “At the same time, civilians have been killed by security forces in the course of counter-terrorism operations, and their bodies on occasion disposed in secret,” he said.
Mr. Colville demanded “prompt, thorough, transparent, independent and effective investigations” into all killings of civilians and said that the families should be allowed to mourn their loved ones and seek justice.
He further said, “We acknowledge the need to prevent violence, but we are concerned at signs of a wider crackdown on civil society actors in J&K. The use of sweeping counter-terrorism measures risks leading to further human rights violations and deepening discontent. We call on the security forces and armed groups to exercise restraint, and to ensure that the rise in tensions in Jammu and Kashmir in recent weeks does not lead to further violence against the civilian population”.
Khurram Parvez, a 2006 Reebok Human Rights Award winner, is the chairperson of Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and programme coordinator of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and has been actively involved in highlighting the human rights situation in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
He has, over the past couple of decades, worked mainly on the issues - such as involuntary disappearances and plight of victims of violence, particularly the ‘half-widows’, the women whose partners have disappeared after their reported arrest by the security forces combating a 32-year-old insurgency in J&K.
His arrest had evoked sharp criticism by human rights defenders and political parties at home and abroad.
Amnesty International said that it was “yet another example of how anti-terror laws are being misused to criminalize human rights work & stifle dissent in India”.
“Instead of targeting HRDs, authorities should focus on bringing accountability for human rights violations," it added.
A social media campaign for Mr. Parvez’s release was also launched....