UN experts have warned that the arrest and detention of renowned Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez has a chilling effect on civil society, rights activists and journalists in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
The experts Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair), Grażyna Baranowska, Luciano Hazan, Angkhana Neelapaijit, Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism and Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on completion of one year of Khurram Parvez’s illegal detention reiterated their call for his immediate and unconditional release by the Indian government.
They said that they were dismayed at the continued deprivation of liberty of Parvez, in what was increasingly proving to be an act of retaliation against a human rights defender for his tireless work documenting and reporting serious human rights violations, including enforced disappearances and unlawful killings in IIOJK.
Khurram Parvez was arrested on terrorism and other charges on 22 November 2021. He was produced before a court in Delhi on 30 November and 4 December 2021, which decided to transfer him from National Investigation Agency (NIA) custody to judicial custody. His detention has been extended five times by the NIA Special Court in New Delhi under draconian law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
“We reiterate our serious concerns about the amendment of the applicable legislation which allows the designation of any individual as a ‘terroristʼ, bypassing the requirement to establish membership or association with banned groups, and its application as a means of coercion against civil society, the media, and human rights defenders in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir,” the experts said.
They once again called for initiation of a process of independent review of the legislation not only to engage international best practice in relation to the use of counter-terrorism law, but also to bring the law in line with India’s obligations under international human rights law.
“Mr. Parvez’s case of arrest, prolonged detention under the UAPA has a chilling effect on civil society, human rights defenders and journalists,” the experts said.
“We call on the Government of India to end reprisals and intimidation of activists and civil society organisations, including of those like Mr. Parvez who share information and testimony on human rights violations with UN human rights bodies and mechanisms.”
Khurram Parvez is presently detained at the Rohini Jail in New Delhi. If convicted, he could face up to 14 years of imprisonment or even the death penalty. His next and fifth hearing is scheduled to take place tomorrow (24 November 2022).
It is to mention here that four human rights organisations World Organisation Against Torture, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, Forum-Asia, and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation submitted a complaint on Tuesday to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for issuance of a ruling on the arbitrariness of Khurram’s detention, and to demand the Indian authorities to release him. In the complaint, the human rights bodies expressed the fear that Khurram Parvez faces a possible life sentence and the death penalty in a blatant act of reprisal for his legitimate and peaceful human rights activities.
Twelve global human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also jointly raised their voice for immediate and unconditional release of Khurram Parvez. In a statement signed by these rights bodies and posted on the website of the London-based Amnesty International, they urged India to stop criminalising the work of human rights defenders. Instead, they added, Indian authorities should end impunity for the human rights violations that human rights defenders have bravely documented and exposed, especially in Jammu and Kashmir. The statement deplored that “Indian authorities have also clamped down on media freedom and shut down the internet to quash peaceful protests and restrict access to information” since India revoked the special status of IIOJK in August 2019.—KMS