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India’s Arrest of Kashmiri Activist, Khurram Parvez, Is Criticized

todayNovember 23, 2021 5

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NEW DELHI — A prominent Kashmiri human rights activist, Khurram Parvez, was arrested by Indian security forces on Monday and charged under a strict antiterrorism law, his family said, amid growing concerns that the Indian authorities are abusing the law to quash dissent.

The arrest was widely condemned, including by rights groups and a rapporteur for the United Nations, who have called for Mr. Parvez’s release.

Mr. Parvez’s brother, Sheikh Shariyar, said the authorities carried out a four-hour search of their home on Monday and took Mr. Parvez away for what they said would be routine questioning. But the family was later told that Mr. Parvez had been arrested and would be transferred to New Delhi.

A copy of the arrest memo showed that Mr. Parvez was being charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, an antiterrorism law with roots in the British colonial era that makes being freed on bail extremely difficult.

“They took Khurram’s mobile and laptop,” Mr. Shariyar said. “At six in the evening they called me and told me that they had arrested him.”

Mr. Parvez is a leading member of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a group that has frequently published reports on human rights abuses in the region, including disappearances, torture and mass graves. Kashmir, disputed between India and Pakistan, remains one of the world’s most heavily militarized areas, with hundreds of thousands of troops on the Indian side of the valley alone.

In 2016, Mr. Parvez was prevented from boarding a flight to Geneva to attend the Human Rights Council and arrested days later. He was released after 76 days; a judge called the arrest illegal and arbitrary.

The work of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition was recognized by the Norway-based Rafto Foundation for Human Rights in 2017 for documenting “human rights violations in Kashmir under very difficult circumstances.”

The foundation, in a statement, said its members had worked closely with Mr. Parvez’s organization and knew well that its work was “directed towards raising awareness about human rights violations by peaceful and democratic means.”

They described the accusations made in the arrest memo as “wholly implausible” and said that the episode was an “aggressive invasion into and constriction of the space of human rights defenders and their organizations” that “unfortunately fits a pattern of behavior by the Indian government.”

Jostein Hole Kobbeltvedt, the director of the Rafto Foundation, also criticized the government, saying: “We observe with regret that the Indian government intimidates citizens working to secure the values and norms enshrined both in the constitution of India and in international treaties ratified by the government itself.”

Mary Lawlor, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights defenders, said she was disturbed by the reports of the arrest.

“He’s not a terrorist, he is a Human Rights Defender,” she wrote on Twitter. Amnesty International also weighed in.

India’s Supreme Court is reviewing a petition on concerns that the antiterrorism law, known as U.A.P.A., is widely abused by the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to suppress dissent.

A group of former government officers have filed a petition arguing that the prosecution rates under the law remain abysmally low — about 2 percent, according to the government’s own admission in Parliament.

Still, those charged under the law sometimes end up spending years in jail, some even dying there, before their trial has begun or resulted in a conviction.

While India’s judiciary has expressed concern about the abuse of colonial-era laws and the heavy-handedness of the security forces, leaders in Mr. Modi’s administration have remained bullish in their messaging to the security forces.

In a recent speech at a ceremony for trainee police officers, Mr. Modi’s national security adviser, Ajit Doval, described civil society as the “new frontier of war” — remarks that were widely criticized for blurring lines in the way the judiciary has expressed concern about.

“Wars have ceased to become an effective instrument for achieving their political or military objectives,” Mr. Doval told the officers in training, adding: “But it is the civil society that can be subverted, that can be suborned, that can be divided, that can be manipulated, to hurt the interests of a nation. And you are there to see that they stand fully protected.”

Original story from https://www.nytimes.com

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