Following the arrest of Kashmiri journalist Irfan Mehraj under charges of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), several journalists' bodies have decried the action.
The Editors Guild of India (EGI), in a statement, said, “EGI is deeply concerned about the excessive use of UAPA against journalists, most recently, in the case of the arrest of Irfan Mehraj, a Kashmir-based journalist, by the NIA. The Guild urges the state administration to respect democratic values."
Details on the arrest: Mehraj's arrest on Monday, 20 March, is the first arrest in the ‘NGO-terror funding case; according to the NIA.
Kashmir human rights activist Khurram Parvez, who has been languishing in prison since November 2021, is also an accused in the same case.
NIA, in a tweet on Tuesday, 21 March, claimed that the arrest was because of Mehraj's collaboration with the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), an organisation directed by Parvez.
Is this a pattern? EGI said that Mehraj's arrest reflects a trend of security forces arresting Kashmiri journalists critical of the establishment.
“These include journalists Aasif Sultan, Sajad Gul, and Fahad Shah. The space for media freedom has progressively eroded in Kashmir,” it added.
Meanwhile, in an eight-tweet thread, the Journalist Federation of Kashmir (JFK) noted that Mehraj is a hardworking journalist who has written for sevaral global outlets.
"His arrest seems to be another tactic of intimidating journalists in Kashmir who have always worked under perilous conditions, holding up values of press freedom in the… face of dangers to life and liberty," the JFK said.
“Three journalists from Kashmir, Asif Sultan, Sajad Gul and Fahad Shah, are already in jail,” the organisation tweeted.
Demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Mehraj, the People Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) said, "It is a known fact because of continuous state pressure, reportage on the local situation and rights violations in the Valley has been credibly carried out by freelance journalists and local independent platforms."
"The present spate of arrests is a concerted effort to silence these voices, despite international concern as expressed by the Universal Period Review, a peer evaluation body of the UN Human Rights Council in November 2022, over the widespread detention of activists and journalists under the UAPA," the PUDR statement read.
The 'Terror-Funding Case': An “investigation revealed that the JKCCS was funding terror activities in the [ Kashmir] valley and had also been in propagation of secessionist agenda in the Valley under the garb of protection of human rights,” NIA said in a statement on Tuesday.
It added that organisations, including JKCCS, were being investigated for receiving domestic and foreign funds while developing links with proscribed “terrorist” groups including Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM).