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India: Human rights defender Khurram Parvez marks 150 days arbitrarily detained on baseless charges

JOINT PUBLIC STATEMENT

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Amnesty International condemn the way in which the authorities have targeted and harassed human rights defender Khurram Parvez through the misuse of the justice system, 150 days on, from his arbitrary detention. Our organisations call on the government of India to immediately and unconditionally release him and drop the baseless charges that have been brought against him.

Khurram Parvez, a Kashmiri human rights defender, has been working relentlessly to expose human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, including documenting cases of enforced disappearances and investigating unmarked graves. He is the Programme Coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and the Chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance (AFAD).

On 25 November 2021, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) police raided his house and the office of JKCCS in Srinagar, following a First Information Report (FIR) lodged by the NIA on 6 November 2021. Several electronic devices and documents were seized, and Khurram was subsequently arrested.

Khurram has been accused of being in contact with individuals linked to a Pakistani terrorist group and faces multiple charges under several laws, including “criminal conspiracy”, “waging war against the government”, and “conspiracy to wage war against the government” under the India Penal Code, as well as for “raising funds for a terrorist act”, “conspiracy”, “recruitment of any person for a terrorist act” and “membership of a terrorist organisation” under the counter-terrorism law.

Our organisations believe the way in which the justice system is being abused to target and harass Khurram Parvez stems solely from his human rights work. His arrest and detention highlight the heightened risks human rights defenders face and the use of draconian laws, such as the UAPA, to silence them.

It has been around five months since Khurram’s arrest. In the most recent custodial hearing held on 24 March 2022, an NIA court extended his judicial custody for another 50 days, which will bring his total detention period to 180 days, the maximum allowed under the UAPA for filing a charge sheet. The UAPA has been increasingly misused by the government of India and has become the weapon of choice to arbitrarily detain human rights defenders, journalists and protesters. Slow investigative processes and extremely stringent bail provisions under the UAPA ensure that those detained under the law are held in pre-trial detention for long periods.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, together with the Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism and many others, have previously raised grave concerns about the 2019 amendment to the UAPA because of the threat it poses to human rights defenders and the right to freedom of expression. The Special Procedures also condemned the UAPA for allowing for the designation of individuals as “terrorists” without regard to a fair trial and due process.

Khurram Parvez has been systematically harassed in the past simply for advocating against human rights violations in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir. In September 2016, the Indian authorities arrested him a day after he was barred from travelling to Switzerland to attend the 33rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. He was then charged under the draconian Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows detention without charge for up to two years. He was released after 76 days in detention. In October 2020, nine simultaneous raids were conducted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on the houses and offices of several human rights defenders, non-governmental organisations and newspapers in Jammu and Kashmir, including the house of Khurram Parvez. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights have raised concerns about the current arrest and detention of Khurram Parvez under the UAPA and called on the Indian authorities to safeguard his rights to freedom of expression, association and personal liberty.

Human rights groups have continuously raised grave concerns over the human rights situation in Jammu & Kashmir, particularly after the decision to revoke its constitutional autonomy on 5 August 2019. Thousands of Kashmiris had been detained without charge under the Public Safety Act (PSA), including political leaders, opposition activists, lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists. There are some serious allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in custody, including beatings. Since August 2019, the Indian authorities have clamped down on the rights to freedom of expression and association in Jammu and Kashmir with multiple raids on offices of media outlets and civil society organisations, the use of draconian laws, revolving door detentions, arbitrary restrictions on movement and internet shutdowns in a clear attempt to stifle all dissent in the region. This crackdown in the region is evidently contrary to India’s international human rights obligations and reflects poorly on its role as a UN Human Rights Council member.

CIVICUS and Amnesty International urge the Indian authorities to publicly recognise human rights defenders and their important work in the region and put an end to their criminalisation. We also urge the government to stop using draconian national security and counter-terrorism laws to target and harass human rights defenders and other critics of the government and call for a thorough review of the UAPA to align its laws with India’s obligations under international human rights law.