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Kashmir Scholars Consultative and Action Network
Stop Arrests of Human Rights Defenders in Kashmir
Public Statement on the Arrests of Irfan Mehraj and Khurram Parvez
April 1, 2023
As Kashmir scholars, we submit this statement to express our deep concern over the Government of India’s intensified repression of human rights work in the disputed region of Indian-Administered Jammu & Kashmir (IAJK) targeting the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) through the arrest of Irfan Mehraj and the second arrest of Khurram Parvez in a terror-related case. Both of these arrests have taken place in connection with a First Information Report (FIR), RC-37/2020/NIA/DLI, filed by the agency in October 2020 in New Delhi under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code. These arrests epitomize the Government of India’s strategy of criminalizing journalists and defenders of human rights with the aim of silencing and terrorizing all voices that document the legal and political realities of Kashmir.
On March 20, 2023, Irfan Mehraj was summoned while covering a story on professional assignment and subsequently arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s central counter-terrorist task force. Irfan Mehraj is a Srinagar-based freelance journalist who previously worked as a JKCCS researcher. The founding editor of Wande Magazine and a senior editor at TwoCircles.net, he has contributed to leading news publications like The Indian Express, Al Jazeera, Himal Southasian, Deutsche Welle (DW), and TRT World. He joins Kashmiri journalists Fahad Shah, Aasif Sultan, and Sajad Gul, among others, who have been detained for writing and reporting on Kashmir. Following his arrest, the NIA issued a press release identifying him as “a close associate of Khurram Parvez.”
Khurram Parvez is the JKCCS Program Coordinator who is already incarcerated in a separate terror-related case – FIR RC-30/2021/NIA/DLI – since November 2021, with the chargesheet filed in May 2022. His name has now been added to the case with Irfan Mehraj. Khurram Parvez’s work as a human rights defender has been globally acknowledged, and he is the recipient of several international awards honoring his untiring work.
The current case targets JKCCS as a human rights organization. On March 21, 2023, an NIA spokesman stated that “JKCCS was funding terror activities in the valley and had also been in the propagation of a secessionist agenda in the Valley under the garb of protection of human rights” [emphasis added]. The 2020 FIR casts a wide net of allegations, stating that “NGOs, Trusts and Societies, registered as well as un-registered, are collecting funds domestically and abroad through donations, business contributions etc. in the name of charity and various welfare activities such as public health, education etc. Some of these NGOs have links with proscribed terrorist organisation [sic].” It also explicitly criminalizes, under counter-terror law, human rights documentation and reporting by stating that “these NGOs, Trusts and Societies and their members, by words and written means, publish anti-national and incriminating material to bring into hatred, contempt and disaffection towards the Government of India.” This 2020 FIR has provided the basis for prolonged and ongoing interrogations of journalists, associates, and researchers; other human rights defenders may also be arrested in this case in the near future.
Over the past week, nationalist media platforms have amplified the state’s narrative locating JKCCS at the heart of a global “separatist intellectual ecosystem” and “separatist-terrorist ecosystem” that includes UN officials, international human rights organizations, journalists, and scholars. This exemplifies the Government of India’s long-standing and now escalating pattern of using colonial counter-terrorism laws to intimidate, threaten, and criminalize human rights activists, journalists, scholars and public health, education, and social justice activists. This tactic effectively terrorizes all civil society in Kashmir while labeling resistance groups as “terrorists,” thus outlawing them and any and all association with them. In a press statement on March 24, 2023, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, stated: “The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) carries out essential work monitoring human rights. Their research and analysis of human rights violations are of huge value, including to international organisations seeking to ensure accountability and non-repetition of abuses.”
As Kashmir scholars, we emphasize that JKCCS has always operated as an internationally respected human rights documentation center and civil society institution. Over the years, they have published several critically important human rights reports including Buried Evidence (2009), Alleged Perpetrators (December 2012), Structures of Violence (September 2015), Torture (May 2019), and Kashmir’s Internet Siege (August 2020), among others, that have rigorously and meticulously documented India’s ongoing human rights violations in Kashmir. JKCCS reports are based on methodologically conscientious field research and scrupulous data collection practices. They meet the highest standards of research and scholarship. This comprehensive documentation has been extensively cited in the academic work of many scholars researching and writing on Kashmir, including those in KSCAN. It has immense value for those monitoring and reporting on human rights in India, for example, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), the US State Department, and the UN Special Procedures mandates comprising independent experts. Over the past decade, JKCCS research and its documentation has acquired even greater significance due to India’s escalation of press censorship and refusal of access to scholars and human rights monitors, including the UN Special Rapporteurs, to Kashmir.
The silencing in Kashmir has reached an unprecedented dimension since 2019 following the illegal annexation of IAJK in clear violation of international law. The Government of India has increasingly criminalized and limited all forms of expression – journalistic, academic, legal, photographic, and via social media. India has fallen to 150 (out of 180) in the World Press Freedom Index (2022), an annual ranking by the non-profit Reporters Without Borders – its lowest ranking ever. There is constant illegal surveillance of online platforms and a new and strikingly draconian media policy in Jammu & Kashmir since June 2020, such that nearly all news media have been reduced to mere mouth pieces for the Government. The fear of incarceration is all too real for activists and journalists, especially those from Kashmir.
KSCAN urgently requests all organizations and individuals of conscience to join Amnesty International, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights (OMCT and FIDH), Human Rights Watch, Frontline Defenders, People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Journalist Federation of Kashmir, All India Lawyers’ Association for Justice, Press Club of India, and Human Rights Watch in urgently calling for the immediate release of Irfan Mehraj and Khurram Parvez, as well as incarcerated journalists Fahad Shah, Aasif Sultan and Sajad Gul, among others, and for an immediate end to the criminalization of human rights documentation, journalism, and research in Kashmir.
The Kashmir Scholars Consultative and Advocacy Network is an interdisciplinary group of scholars of various nationalities engaged in research on the region of Kashmir. Our research on the Kashmir conflict addresses its history, its consequences for the region and beyond, and its possible resolution. It examines the implications for an internationally mediated political solution, and is of relevance to policy makers.
Institutional and Organizational Endorsements of the KSCAN Statement
AGITATE! Journal: Unsettling Knowledges
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
Americans for Kashmir
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Canadian BDS Coalition
Canadians for Peace and Justice in Kashmir
Center for Cultural Power
Civic Coalition, Jerusalem
Friends of Sabeel of North America (FOSNA)
Hamilton Coalition To Stop The War
Hindus for Human Rights
India Justice Project, Berlin
International Action Center
International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances
Islamophobia Studies Center
Just Peace Advocates / Mouvement Pour Une Paix Juste
Justice for All
Justice For All Canada
Kashmir Law & Justice Project
Kashmir-Palestine Scholars Solidarity Network
Lausan Collective, Hong Kong
Let Kashmir Decide
Montreal for a World BEYOND War
National Federation of Indian Women
Palestine Action, UK
Palestinian and Jewish Unity (PAJU)
Project South, Atlanta
Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada
Rafto Foundation for Human Rights
RootsAction Education Fund
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network
Socialist Action / Ligue Pour l’Action Socialiste
South Asia Solidarity Group, UK
Stoke White Investigations
University at Buffalo Community for Global Health Equity, New York
University at Buffalo Gender Institute, New York
University at Buffalo Humanities Institute, New York
University Network for Human Rights
World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)
Scholars, Journalists and Activists Signing in Solidarity with the KSCAN Statement
Over 200 signatures. See full list.