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Two years on, human rights defender Khurram Parvez waiting for his human rights to be defended

As Khurram Parvez, perhaps the most prominent face of human rights work in Jammu and Kashmir, completes two years behind bars without trial today, activists call it a travesty. 

TODAY marks the second anniversary of the incarceration without trial of Khurram Parvez.

Parvez, the most prominent human rights defender of his generation from Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), was arrested on charges under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 on November 22, 2021.

His arrest was seen as part of the larger crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists in J&K in the lead-up to and aftermath of the deoperationalisation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on August 5, 2019.

Parvez’s house was raided in connection with alleged funding of secessionist and separatist activities in 2020.

Two months prior to the raid, the Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS) released a report Kashmir Internet Siege: an ongoing assault on digital rights, which traced how the disruption of the internet led to the denial of many human rights to the people of J&K.

Parvez is a founding member of the JKCCS, one of the only functional organisations in J&K that documents human rights abuses by Indian armed forces and militants belonging to various local and Pakistan-supported outfits.

Parvez is chairman of the Philippine-based Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance and has been named one of the 100 most influential people of 2022 by the Time magazine. He was the recipient of the 2006 Reebok Human Rights Award. 

He has been involved in decades of investigative reporting highlighting the impunity enjoyed by Indian armed forces in J&K because of the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990. 

The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, of which Parvez is coordinator, is a founding member of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) registered a case against Parvez in October 2020. In November 2021, the office of the JKCCS in Srinagar was raided and Parvez was arrested.

Charges against him range from Sections 120B and 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 to Sections 17 (punishment for raising funds for terrorist acts), 18 (punishment for conspiracy), 22A (offences for companies), 22C (punishment for offences by companies, societies or trusts), 38 (offences relating to membership of a terrorist organisation), 39 (offences relating to support given to a terrorist organisation) and 40 (offences for raising funds for a terrorist organisation) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 on November 22, 2021.

He has been accused of supporting “secessionist agenda run by his organisation JKCCS and promoting larger interests of the terrorist organisation, Hizbul Mujahideen” among other things.

The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner condemned the arrest of Parvez.

It recognised that Parvez has become a victim of reprisals for reportedly sharing information with the United Nations on serious violations of human rights including forced disappearances and unlawful killings in the Indian-administered J&K.

Amnesty International also issued a statement. It stated: “The arrest of Kashmiri activist Khurram Parvez is yet another example of how anti-terror laws are being misused to criminalise human rights work & stifle dissent in India. Instead of targeting HRDs [Human Rights Defenders], authorities should focus on bringing accountability for human rights violations.”

Since then, two years have passed and the case has made little progress. In fact, the chargesheet was filed only a couple of months ago.

Speaking to The Leaflet about Parvez’s continuing incarceration, Juliette Rousselot, Deputy Director for Asia, International Federation for Human Rights, said: “Today is a grim anniversary. Khurram has now spent two years in pre-trial detention, facing charges we all know are baseless and politically-motivated

Over the past decades, Khurram has played an invaluable role in bringing to light human rights violations committed in Kashmir; that work should be celebrated, not criminalised. Yet what we see happening in India, and more specifically in Kashmir, is an attempt by the Indian government to silence civil society by painting all forms of criticism as criminal activities; this is a fundamental attack on freedom of expression and opinion, rights that are explicitly protected in the Indian constitution and under India’s international legal obligations

For years, the Indian government has enjoyed complete impunity for these relentless attacks on civil society; it is high time for the international community to step up, condemn the Indian government for its lack of respect for fundamental human rights, and ensure this judicial harassment of Khurram and so many others like him stops.

Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines told The Leaflet: “I am outraged that Khurram Parvez, landmine victim and colleague in the campaign to ban anti-personnel landmines remains in jail pending trial on unknown charges. I call on the Indian authorities for his immediate release. He has worked hard to make this world a better place and his continued incarceration is a travesty.

Ravi Nair of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre described Parvez’s continuing detention as a “testimony to a broken down legal system”.

Former head of Amnesty International India, Aakar Patel, said, “Parvez’s arbitrary detention is part of a long-standing list of human rights violations committed by Indian authorities against human rights defenders, civil society organisations, journalists, and activists in Jammu and Kashmir. Rather than working towards accountability for these violations, authorities have targeted and arrested those who have exposed and sought justice for such violations.”

Journalist and executive director of Kashmir Times Anuradha Bhasin, stated, “Khurram Parvez is being targeted for his work, which is documenting human rights violations and seeking accountability for those violations. Seeking accountability is not an act of terror. It cannot be criminalised.”

Parvez was also arrested in September 2016 under Public Safety Act, 1978 (a preventive detention law that allows authorities to detain a person without trial for up to two years) to prevent him from participating in the session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. He was released after a 76-day detention without trial.

Upon his release, he had resumed the work of documenting human rights abuses in J&K.

The Leaflet