Court Sends Kashmiri Journalist Irfan Mehraj to 10-Day Custody

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Several national and international human rights groups, media bodies, concerned individuals and journalists have raised serious concerns over Mehraj's arrest and demanded his immediate release.

Ghazala Ahmad | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — A court here has remanded Kashmiri journalist and twocircles.net Editor, Irfan Mehraj, to 10 days of National Investigation Agency (NIA) custody.

Mehraj was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on Monday from his Srinagar residence and was produced on Wednesday before Patiala House Court. NIA sought 12 days of remand to interrogate Mehraj.

Mehraj has been charged under Sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 124-A (inciting disaffection towards government through words, signs, etc. of the Indian Penal Code and 17 (fundraising for terror activities), 18 (conspiracy to commit terror act), 22A & 22C (relating to offences committed by registered companies), 38 (offence relating to membership of a terrorist organisation), 39 (supporting terrorist organisation) and 40 (raising funds for terrorist organisation) of the UAPA, 1967.

On Tuesday, several national and international human rights groups, media bodies, concerned individuals and journalists raised serious concerns over Mehraj’s arrest and demanded his immediate release.

Condemning the arrest, the Editors Guild of India said in a statement: “Irfan Mehraj’s arrest continues a trend in Kashmir of security forces arresting journalists because of their critical reporting of the establishment. These include journalists Aasif Sultan, Sajad Gul, and Fahad Shah. The space for media freedom has progressively eroded in Kashmir.”

Press Club of India (PCI demanded Mehraj’s release calling his arrest a “violation of freedom of speech and expression”. The PCI tweeted on Monday: “We vehemently oppose the imposing of UAPA on media persons. The misuse of this draconian law by NIA in randomly arresting Irfan Mehraj, a journalist from Kashmir, ominously points towards a violation of freedom of speech and expression.” It demanded his immediate release.

Aakar Patel, the chair of Amnesty International in India, said Mehraj’s arrest was “a gross injustice” and “travesty”.

In a statement, he said that “the arrest is yet another instance of the long-drawn repression of human rights and crackdown of media freedom and civil society in the region of Jammu and Kashmir”.

Patel further asserted that journalists such as Irfan Mehraj should be “protected and not persecuted” and that he must be “immediately released”.

In a strongly worded statement, he went on to say that the suppression of freedom of speech and stifling of human rights continues unabated in Kashmir.

Mary Lawlor, United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defender, denounced the arrest and called for his immediate release.

Journalist Federation of Kashmir, a journalist network based in Kashmir advocating for press freedom, condemning the arrest said: “His arrest seems to be another tactic of intimidating journalists in Kashmir who have always worked under perilous conditions, holding up values of press freedom in the face of dangers to life and liberty.”

A federation statement said that “JFK strongly condemns the pattern of intimidation and views it as a continuing attack on freedom of the press in Kashmir.”

All India Lawyers’ Association For Justice (AILAJ) also demanded the release of the journalist and said in a statement: “The arrest of Irfan Mehraj is a continuation of the relentless assault on press and freedom of speech in Jammu and Kashmir. We demand his immediate release.”

Fraternity Movement, a youth organisation that strives to realise a society based on inclusive democracy and stand against human rights violations in India, also strongly condemned the arrest of Mehraj.

Demanding to stop the criminalisation of journalism, the organisation called to remove all charges against the arrested journalist.
Journalists and rights defenders took to social media to raise their concerns about the arrested Kashmiri journalist.

Mirza Waheed, a noted Kashmiri writer and author of the book The Collaborator, urged media bodies and news organisations to back Mehraj and root for his release.

Tagging the media bodies and publications, he tweeted: “It might help if publications and broadcasters Irfan has worked with, @DeutscheWelle for instance, and, of course, press organisations such as @PCITweets @CPJAsia @IndEditorsGuild, and @IndexCensorship ask questions about his arrest”.

Shahid Tantray, a prominent Kashmiri journalist with the Caravan Magazine, expressed his concern and anger over silence from what he called ‘liberals.’ He took it to Twitter and wrote: “You have built careers in Kashmir and your silence speaks louder than your words. #IrfanMehraj is Kashmiri. A Muslim journalist and I can see the silence of the liberals.”

Other Kashmiri journalists including Fahad Shah, editor of the Kashmirwalla Magazine, Aasif Sultan and Sajad Gul are currently facing detention under various sections of the law.

The Hindu correspondent Peerzada Ashiq, noted Srinagar-based journalist and author Gowhar Geelani, and photojournalist Masrat Zahra, were also charged by the Jammu and Kashmir police under anti-terrorism laws.

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