The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Monday arrested prominent human rights defender Khurram Parvez following day-long raids on his residence as well as the office of Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), the NGO of which he was programme coordinator.
As per the arrest memo that was handed over to Parvez’s family, the NIA has brought charges under Section 120B (party to a criminal conspiracy) and Section 121 (waging war against the state) of the Indian Penal Code and under Section 17 (funding a terrorist act), Section 18 (conspiracy), Section 18B (recruitment for the commission of a terrorist act), Section 30 (membership of a terrorist organization) and Section 40 (offences for raising funds for a terrorist organization) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
'They Took All His Gadgets'
The arrest has once again shone a spotlight on what critics insist is a relentless crackdown on activists, journalists and dissenters in the Union Territory and which appears to have grown in leaps and bounds since the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution in 2019.
As per his family, a team of NIA officials visited their house at Srinagar on Monday at around 8 am. “They did the searches till 2 pm. Khurram was taken to the NIA camp office, which is just nearby,” Sheikh Shariyar, his brother, told The Quint over the phone. “They took all his gadgets but ours were spared. Then at 6 pm, we were called and informed that Khurram will be arrested and taken to Delhi. We were asked to give him clothes. They also handed his arrest memo to us.”
Shariyar described Parvez as “energetic” at the time of his arrest. “Instead of us consoling him, it was Khurram who was comforting us and telling us not to worry,” he said.
Social media was abuzz with visuals shot outside a small rickety wooden building off Jhelum river, which also serves as the office for the JKCCS. The structure, which is in the middle of a busy commercial centre near Lal Chowk, was barricaded by police vans and security forces throughout the raid.
'He’s Not a Terrorist, He’s a Human Rights Defender'
The raid on Parvez comes just days after National Security Advisor(NSA) Ajit Doval called civil society a “new frontier of war”, provoking an angry reaction from activists, lawyers and sections of media. “The new frontier of war, what you call the fourth-generation warfare, is civil society ... that can be … manipulated to hurt the interest of a nation,” Doval said at an IPS passing-out parade at the National Police Academy in Hyderabad.
The arrest is likely to evoke international outrage because of Parvez’s global profile. Apart from being a ‘Program Coordinator’ at JKCCS, Parvez is also the ‘Chairperson’ at the Philippines-based Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD). He is a recipient of the Reebok Human Rights Award, which recognises activists “under the age of 30 who fought for human rights through non-violent means.”
The news of his arrest has already prompted a global reaction, with United Nations special mandate holders weighing in with sharp words.
"I’m hearing disturbing reports that Khurram Parvez was arrested today in Kashmir & is at risk of being charged by authorities in India with terrorism-related crimes ... He’s not a terrorist, he’s a Human Rights Defender.”Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
David Kaye, a former UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression, tweeted, “If, as reported, Khurram Parvez has been arrested by India's ‘counter-terrorism’ NIA, it's yet another extraordinary abuse in Kashmir.”
Geneva-based World Organisation Against Torture called for Parvez’s immediate release, saying that they were “deeply concerned about the high risk of torture while in custody.”
JKCCS's Role in Documenting Unrest in the Valley
JKCCS has played a pivotal role in cataloguing alleged incidents of human rights violations in Kashmir, including killings, enforced disappearances, torture and arrests that have taken place over the three decades of the conflict. The group also maintains a database to keep track of the violence taking place in the region. It publishes yearly and six-monthly reports on killings, attacks and injuries, and even demolitions of residential structures carried out by security forces during gun battles.
JKCCS’s last big report was published in August 2020. The report unpacked the “dubious” behind the enforcement of Internet shutdowns in the J&K. Previous important documentations include reports like Alleged Perpetrators, which sought to deconstruct the “culture of impunity in the highly militarized space” in Kashmir.
In 2015, the group published over-500-page-long Structures of Violence, which observes “the patterns of violence through individual case studies … directly concerned with identifying the structure, forms and tactics of violence of the Indian State in Jammu and Kashmir”.
Monday’s was the second raid on Parvez. NIA had raided his residence and his office last year in October as well. Along with JKCCS, the office of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) was searched as well.
Supported largely by grants from the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, APDP has produced damning reports on cases of alleged enforced disappearances in Kashmir.
Documentation assembled by JKCCS was also the basis for the first-ever report published by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2018, calling for an international inquiry into “multiple rights violations” in Kashmir. The report had gravely embarrassed the Modi government, which termed it “baseless” and “politically motivated”.
After last year's raid, JKCCS suddenly stopped publishing yearly and bi-annual reports. Parvez, too, had not been tweeting as frequently as he once would.
Parvez Spent 76 Days in Prison Earlier
Parvez was previously arrested in 2016 as well when Kashmir was reeling under civil unrest sparked by the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani. On 14 September 2016, Parvez was stopped by immigration authorities at the Indira Gandhi International Airport from boarding a flight to Geneva, where he was scheduled to attend a UNHRC session.
He was imprisoned for four days at a sub-jail in Kupwara under Sections 107 (security for keeping the peace) and 151 (design to commit any cognizable offence) of the CrPC, and upon his release, he was re-arrested by the authorities, this time under the Public Safety Act, a stringent preventive detention law. He was later relocated to the Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu. After serving 76 days in prison, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court quashed his detention under PSA.
The court criticised the authorities, saying that the detainee was not provided with all documents on which detention orders had been passed.
“The detenu in these circumstances has been deprived of the opportunity of making an effective representation against his detention in terms of Article 22(5) of the Constitution of India. Breach of this constitutional safeguard alone is sufficient to invalidate the impugned order of detention,” the court said. “On the basis of allegations contained in the complaint and the statements of police personnel to support the complaint, it appears no offence was committed by the detenu.”
That year, his detention had also elicited a blistering editorial by The New York Times, which accused the Modi government of “inflaming the situation” in Kashmir by arresting Parvez and also condemned what it called “spurious charges”.
He “should be released and allowed to travel,” the editorial said.
The 2004 IED Blast
On 20 April 2004, while monitoring elections in north Kashmir’s Lolab, Parvez’s car was blown up by a blast triggered by a high-intensity improvised explosive device, which resulted in him losing a leg. His colleague and fellow rights defender Aasiya Jeelani succumbed to the injuries. Parvez still walks with a mild limp. He is 44-years-old and has two children.
In a statement to The Quint, Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, expressed “shock” over Parvez’s arrest. “At a time when Kashmiris are protesting wrongful killings and other abuses, Indian authorities should be working with human rights activists to address concerns instead of arresting them,” she said. “We have repeatedly said that accountability for human rights violations is the key to ending the cycle of violence.”
(Shakir Mir is a freelance journalist who has reported for the Times Of India and The Wire, among other publications. He tweets at @shakirmir.