India
24.03.23
Urgent Interventions

India: Arbitrary detention of journalist Irfan Mehraj amid renewed crackdown on Kashmiri human rights defenders

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

IND 001 / 0323 / OBS 015
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment /
At risk of torture and ill-treatment
India
March 24, 2023

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in India.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Irfan Mehraj, a Kashmiri journalist and human rights defender who has been reporting on human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. He contributes to national and international media outlets, including The Indian Express, Al Jazeera, TRT World, Deutsche Welle (DW) and Himal Southasian, and is the founding editor of the online media outlet Wande Magazine. Mr Mehraj was also a researcher with the human rights organisation Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). The Observatory has also been informed about new acts of judicial harassment against Mr Khurram Parvez, a prominent Kashmiri human rights defender who has been arbitrarily detained without trial since November 22, 2021. At the time of his arrest, Mr Parvez was the Coordinator of the JKCCS and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), as well as the Chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD).

On March 20, 2023, in the evening, Irfan Mehraj was called to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) office in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, on the pretext of a “casual conversation”. He was subsequently arrested on the basis of a First Information Report (FIR) lodged by the NIA in New Delhi on October 8, 2020, under several sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). These include “criminal conspiracy”, “inciting disaffection towards the government” (Sections 120-B and 124-A of the Penal Code, respectively), and “raising funds for [a] terrorist act”, “conspiracy to commit a terrorist act”, “offence relating to membership of a terrorist organisation”, “supporting a terrorist organisation”, “raising funds for a terrorist organisation” and “offences committed by registered companies, societies or trusts” (Sections 17, 18, 38, 39, 40, 22-A and 22-C of the UAPA, respectively).

Mr Mehraj was transferred to New Delhi by plane on March 21, 2023, after a remand transfer hearing before a magistrate in Srinagar which was held in the absence of his lawyer.

On the same day, the NIA published a press release framing the arrest of Irfan Mehraj as part of an “NGO Terror Funding Case”. The statement noted Irfan Mehraj was a “close associate of Khurram Parvez and was working with his organisation JKCCS”. The press release added that “investigations revealed that the JKCCS was funding terror activities in the valley and had also been in propagation of secessionist agenda in the Valley under the garb of protection of human rights”. In its press release, the NIA announced that the “involvement of some NGOs, Trusts, and Societies in funding terror related activities” was being probed in that case. The document fails to specify the names of the organisations under investigation.

On March 22, 2023, Irfan Mehraj was produced before the NIA special judge at the Patiala House Court in New Delhi. The judge ordered his detention in NIA custody for 10 days, until April 1, 2023. On the same day, Khurram Parvez was transferred from Rohini Central Prison, where he has been arbitrarily detained for the past 16 months in another case, to the same court, which ordered his detention in the same case as Mr Mehraj’s. Mr Parvez was also remanded to NIA’s custody for 10 days. The Observatory notes that Khurram Parvez had been interrogated by the NIA on two occasions in the week of March 13, 2023.

The Observatory recalls that Khurram Parvez’s residence and the JKCCS office in Srinagar were raided by the NIA on two occasions in connection with this case, on October 28, 2020, and March 27, 2022, respectively. Some electronic devices and unrevealed documents related to financial transactions were seized during the raids, including Irfan Mehraj’s IT devices.

The Observatory further recalls that Khurram Parvez was arbitrarily arrested on November 22, 2021, by NIA officers in a separate case based on a FIR lodged by the NIA on November 6, 2021. He remained detained under NIA’s custody for 10 days until his transfer to prison. On May 13, 2022, in a preliminary chargesheet filed by the NIA, he was charged with “criminal conspiracy” and “punishment for conspiracy to wage war against the government of India” (Sections 120-B and 121-A of the Indian Penal Code, respectively), “taking gratification, in order, by corrupt or illegal means, to influence public servant” (Section 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act), and “unlawful activities”, “conspiracy”, “recruiting any person or persons for commission of a terrorist act”, “offence relating to membership of a terrorist organisation” and “giving support to a terrorist organisation” (Sections 13, 18, 18B, 38 and 39 of the UAPA). Mr Parvez remains detained as investigations are ongoing.

The NIA accused Khurram Parvez of “running a network of over ground workers of the [Pakistan-based terrorist organisation] Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) for furthering activities of LeT and to commit terrorist attacks in India”, according to the press release published by the NIA on May 13, 2022.

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Irfan Mehraj, as well as the ongoing arbitrary detention and renewed acts of judicial harassment against Khurram Parvez. The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over the potential risk of torture and ill-treatment both human rights defenders face in NIA custody, and urges the authorities to guarantee in all circumstances their physical integrity and psychological well-being.

The arbitrary detention of Irfan Mehraj and Khurram Parvez takes place amid an ongoing crackdown on civil society, including on Kashmiri human rights defenders and organisations, by the Indian government. Human rights defenders, student activists, independent journalists and other critics of the government have been prosecuted under politically motivated criminal charges, including sedition and terrorism, with the aim to eradicate critical voices in the country.

The Observatory urges the Indian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Irfan Mehraj and Khurram Parvez, put an immediate end to the judicial harassment against them, and drop all charges against them. The Observatory further calls on the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India to monitor Irfan Mehraj and Khurram Parvez’s detention conditions by conducting in-person visits to NIA’s detention facilities, and to attend all the hearings in their cases.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of India, urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Irfan Mehraj and Khurram Parvez;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Irfan Mehraj and Khurram Parvez and put an end to all acts of harassment against them and all other human rights defenders in India, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals in all circumstances;

iii. Guarantee Irfan Mehraj and Khurram Parvez’s right to due process and fair trial;

iv. Immediately put an end to the use of repressive laws to target human rights defenders, ensure its compliance with international human rights standards, and repeal the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Addresses:

  • Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, E-mail: connect@mygov.nic.in, Twitter: @narendramodi
  • Mr. Amit Shah, Union Minister of Home Affairs of India, Email: amitshah.mp@sansad.nic.in, Twitter: @AmitShah
  • Mr. Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs of India, Email: hshso@nic.in
  • Mr. D. Y. Chandrachud, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court of India, Email: supremecourt@nic.in
  • Mr. Shri Devendra Kumar Singh, IAS, Secretary General Chief Executive Officer
    of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: sgnhrc@nic.in, Twitter: @India_NHRC
  • Mr. Indrajeet Kumar, Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: hrd-nhrc@nic.in
  • H.E. Mr. Indra Mani Pandey, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: india.geneva@mea.gov.in

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of India in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, March 24, 2023

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

Sign up now

Subscribe to our latest news & alerts