The Indian-occupied region of Jammu and Kashmir has been a hotbed of political oppression and resistance for decades. The Indian government has been continuously persecuting Kashmiri journalists and activists who speak out against their policies. In recent years, the cases of Irfan Mehraj and Khurram Parvez have gained international attention and have sparked outrage among human rights organizations and activists.
Irfan Mehraj, a Kashmiri journalist, was arrested in August 2020 for allegedly instigating violence in the region. Mehraj, who worked for the Kashmir Walla, a local news website, had been reporting on the ground situation in the region since the Indian government revoked its special status in August 2019. Mehraj’s reporting had been portraying the reality of the Indian government’s actions in the region, therefore, the action of his arrest came with no surprise. Mehraj was held in detention without trial, during which time he was tortured by the Indian security forces. Despite the lack of evidence against him, Mehraj was denied bail several times, and his case was repeatedly postponed. After spending six months in detention, Mehraj was finally released in February 2021.
Similarly, Khurram Parvez, a Kashmiri human rights activist, was also arrested in September 2016 on the charges of terrorism in the region. Parvez, who was the coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, had been working to document human rights violations in the region for over a decade. Parvez’s arrest came just days after he was prevented from boarding a flight to Geneva, where he was scheduled to attend a UN Human Rights Council session. He was also denied bail several times. He was also subjected to torture and ill-treatment by the Indian security forces. In November 2016, the Indian government finally released Parvez after he was granted bail by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
The international community, including the United Nations and Amnesty International, has condemned these actions and called on the Indian government to respect the human rights of the Kashmiri people. In September 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed concern over the restrictions on freedom of expression and the arbitrary detention of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir. Bachelet called on the Indian government to release all those who had been arbitrarily detained and to ensure that the rights of the Kashmiri people were protected.
Amnesty International has also been critical of the Indian government’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir. In August 2019, Amnesty International India released a report titled “Losing Sight in Kashmir: The Impact of Pellet-Firing Shotguns,” which documented the use of pellet-firing shotguns by the Indian security forces in the region.
However, the Indian government has consistently denied any wrongdoing and justified its actions on the grounds of maintaining law and order in the region. Both released activists, Irfan Mehraj and Khurram Parvez, have been arrested by India’s notorious counterterrorism agency, National Investigation Agency (NIA) on March 20, 2023, and March 22, 2023, respectively, under the draconian law, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, stated, “Indian authorities appear to be intensifying the long-standing repression of Kashmiri civil society… The State must respect its human rights obligations and be held accountable where it violates them.”
Similarly, Aakar Patel, chair of the board at Amnesty International India, said: “The arrest of Kashmiri journalist Irfan Mehraj under terror charges is a travesty. The arrest is yet another instance of the long-drawn repression of human rights and the crackdown on media freedoms and civil society in the region of Jammu and Kashmir. The stifling of the rights to freedom of expression and association continue unabated in Kashmir…”
In conclusion, human rights organizations and activists argue that the Indian government’s policies in the region are in violation of international law and the basic human rights of the Kashmiri people. The cases of Irfan Mehraj and Khurram Parvez are just two examples of the Indian government’s continuous persecution of Kashmiri journalists and activists who speak out against their policies of brutal oppression. Major economic and political powers should also act responsibly and stop the Indian authorities from committing inhumane crimes against minorities, especially Kashmiris in IIOJK.
The writer Rubab Nawaz is a Research officer at YFK- International Kashmir Lobby Group.
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