Skip to main content

Stop 'criminalising' journalists and human rights activists in Kashmir: PUCL

Counterview Desk 

The People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has asked the Government of India to stop witch-hunt of journalists and human rights activists in Kashmir. Seeking the release of release Irfan Mehraj, Khurram Parvez as well as Aasif Sultan, Sajad Gul, and Fahad Shah, PUCL in a statement said that the arrests “are a part of the pattern of the Indian state trying to repress the voice of professional and independent members of the journalist fraternity.”
“By criminalizing and prosecuting speech by dubbing it ‘anti national’, India betrays its constitutional promise of guaranteeing to all its citizens the right to speech, expression and association all of which involves the right to dissent, right to question those in power and seek accountability, the right to peacefully assemble, protest and form associations”, it adds.

Text:

The PUCL strongly condemns the arrest of Irfan Mehraj, a Srinagar based freelance journalist under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) on 20th March, 2023 by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The arrest of Irfan Mehraj was pursuant to an FIR registered in 2020, in which human rights activist, Khurram Pervez was arrested as well.
Irfan Mehraj, 32, Editor for TwoCircles.net, regularly contributed to national and international news organisations like Al Jazeera, DW, TRT, The Caravan and Himal. He is also the founder editor of a popular online magazine called `Wande’ magazine which addresses a variety of issues related to Kashmir society.
The timing and method of arrest of Mehraj makes it apparent that he was detained for continuing to research police and military excesses and for exercising his journalistic duty of speaking truth to power.
It is necessary to point out that Mehraj earlier worked as a researcher with one of India’s most respected human Rights organizations, namely the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). The JKCSS has been manned by remarkably able and courageous human rights workers including Parvez Imroz and Khurram Parvez who was the organisation’s convenor at the time of his arrest.
A clear pattern which emerges is that these arrests are a part of the pattern of the Indian state trying to repress the voice of professional and independent members of the journalist fraternity. It follows in the light of scores of journalists and their families being hounded for their work, with their homes being raided, devices confiscated and with some of them being arrested as well. The arrests of other journalists from Kashmir include Fahad Shah, Editor of Kashmir Wallah, in several FIRs under UAPA; Sajad Gul, a trainee reporter with Kashmir Wallah and the 2018 arrest of Aasif Sultan of Kashmir Reporter. Apart from just reporters, researcher Abdul Aala Fazili was also arrested with Fahad in early 2022 on grounds of sedition, for an article published by the latter in 2011. The unprecedented attack on the media has led to many newspapers and online magazines, including Kashmir Reader and Kashmir times being pushed to the brink of closure.
Apart from the media, the state is also attacking human rights activism. According to the FIR, the NIA case consists of ‘certain NGOs, Trusts and Societies, registered, as well as unregistered, alleged to be collecting funds domestically and abroad through donations, business contributions etc. in the name of charity and various welfare activities such as public health, education etc.’ Troublingly the FIR states that ‘These NGOs, Trusts and Societies and their members, by words and written means, publish anti-national and incriminating material to bring into hatred, contempt and disaffection towards the Government of India.’
In a statement released by the NIA it was noted that, "Following comprehensive investigations into the NGO Terror funding case registered in October 2020, the National Investigation Agency arrested Irfan Mehraj from Srinagar (J&K) yesterday (20.03.2023). Irfan Mehraj was a close associate of Khurram Parvez and was working with his organization, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS). Investigation 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."
Human rights workers of the JKCCS including Mehraj and Pervez have been reporting on issues of human rights concerns in the Valley, despite threats and intimidation from the police, security establishment and Kashmir administration. The arrest of Mehraj and Parvez therefore clearly indicates that the target is the work of the JKCSS.
When the state criminalizes those who expose departures from rule of law framework, it imperils democracy
This particular action of targeting human rights work of documenting, reporting and publicizing how the Indian state has violated its commitments to 'rule of law’, constitutional principles and human rights, is of grave concern to all those concerned about the future of constitutional democracy itself. The work of documenting human rights violations by civil society groups such as the JKCSS is an essential part of the right to free speech. It's only when civil society is able to exercise this constitutional right that a society respecting the rule of law becomes even possible.
The essence of a rule of law society is when the state conforms to the law it has itself enacted. When the state instead criminalizes those who expose its departures from the rule of law framework, it gravely imperils democracy. Weaponising the law to persecute human rights activists and groups threatens constitutional order and thereby democracy itself.
By criminalizing and prosecuting speech by dubbing it ‘anti national’, India betrays its constitutional promise of guaranteeing to all its citizens the right to speech, expression and association all of which involves the right to dissent, right to question those in power and seek accountability, the right to peacefully assemble, protest and form associations.
The PUCL therefore demands:
  1. Immediate closure of the FIR and the investigations against Parvez and Mehraj and others associated with the JKCCS and dropping all criminal charges against them.
  2. The immediate release of Parvez and Mehraj as well as Aasif Sultan, Sajad Gul, Aala Fazili and Fahad Shah from custody.
  3. The immediate repeal of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act as well as the Public Safety Act.
  4. Restore constitutional democracy in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
  5. Ensure media, human rights groups, NGOs, civil society groups and ordinary citizens can lead a life where the constitutional promise of equality, liberty and fraternity is fulfilled.

Comments

TRENDING

'Modi govt's assault on dissent': Foreign funds of top finance NGO blocked

By Rajiv Shah  In a surprise move, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, has cancelled the foreign funding license of the well-known advocacy group, Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), known for critically examining India's finance and banking sectors from human rights and environmental angle.

Misleading ads 'manipulate, seduce, lure' to market unhealthy harmful food

By Our Representative  The Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPI) in its new report “50 Shades of Food Advertising” has sought to expose how seductive, luring, manipulative or deceptive these advertisements can be. Consequences of such advertising are increased intake of unhealthy food products that is associated with obesity and diabetes, it says. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

'Failure of governance': India, China account for 54% pollution-related deaths globally

By Vikas Parsaram Meshram*   A recent report jointly prepared by UNICEF and the independent research organization Health Effects Institute has been released, and the statistics within it are alarming. It states that in 2021, air pollution caused the deaths of 2.1 million Indians, including 169,000 children who hadn't yet fully experienced life. These figures are indeed distressing and raise questions about why there hasn't been more serious effort in this direction, putting policymakers to shame. 

August 9 to be observed as Corporates Quit India day: Top farmers' group

By Our Representative A recent general body meeting of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the top farmers' organisation, stated hat "there is no need for any illusion of change in the pro-corporate policies of the BJP-NDA government" following the recent elections in which BJP failed to achieve even simple majority. It insisted,  Prime Minister Narendra Modi "is hell bent" to continue 'business as usual' policies.

Over 3.8 billion animals at risk: India on crossroad in animal welfare practices

By Rupali Soni*  In a collaborative effort, the India Animal Fund and Dasra have unveiled their report , "Our Shared Future | Securing Animal Welfare, Human Wellbeing, and Sustainability in India." This landscape report provides a thorough overview of animal welfare and underscores its indispensable role within India's socio-economic and ecological frameworks. It also illustrates how animal welfare is intricately intertwined with public health, labor welfare, and climate resilience.

Belgian report alleges MNC Etex responsible for asbestos pollution in Madhya Pradesh town Kymore: COP's Geneva meet

By Our Representative A comprehensive Belgian report has held MNC Etex , into construction business and one of the richest, responsible for asbestos pollution in Kymore, an industrial town in in Katni district of Madhya Pradesh. The report provides evidence from the ground on how Kymore’s dust even today is “annoying… it creeps into your clothes, you have to cough it”, saying “It can be deadly.”

Women's emancipated under Mao: Girl completed primary school, began working in farm collective

By Harsh Thakor*  The book “New Women in New China”, a collection of articles projecting dramatic transformation -- political and economic -- in the status of Chinese women after liberation, originally published in 1972, and reprinted in 2023 by the Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, encompasses the period between 1949 and 1972, seeking to give justice to the subject of women’s emancipation in China after the 1949 revolution.