The Centre says UN body’s ‘allegation… betrays a complete lack of understanding’ of the security challenges faced by India
NEW DELHI — The United Nations (UN) on Wednesday appealed to the Indian government to release prominent Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Parvez, who was arrested recently by the National Investigation Agency in connection with a case under the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), an anti-terror law that the global body said should be amended.
Parvez was arrested on November 22 following a raid by agency sleuths at his home and office in Srinagar. He was shifted to Delhi as NIA cited his alleged involvement in funding and aiding terror groups, a claim rebuked by his family and rights groups.
Rupert Colville, the spokesperson of the UN Human Rights Office said the global body was deeply concerned over the arrest of Parvez, calling on Indian authorities to “fully safeguard his right to freedom of expression, association and personal liberty”.
“We are unaware of the factual basis of the charges. He is known as a tireless advocate for families of the disappeared and has been targeted before for his human rights work,” a UN spokesperson stated.
Reacting to the statement, the External Affairs Ministry on Thursday said that the United Nations human rights body is making “baseless and unfounded allegations” against India’s law enforcement authorities and armed forces which “betrays a complete lack of understanding” of the security challenges faced by India.
The top world body noted he was also detained under Public Safety Act, which Amnesty International termed ‘a lawless law’, for 78 days after being prevented from travelling to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2016. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court had quashed the detention order as illegal.
His arrest has been widely deplored by civil society groups with many alleging that the Modi government is targeting him for his human rights work. Parvez, who is coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), is highly revered in civil society circles within the region and abroad. JKCCS is known for meticulously recording and highlighting human rights abuses committed by both state and non-state actors in Kashmir in the past 30 years of turmoil.
The UN also urged the Indian government to make amendments in the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act or UAPA in line with international human rights law and standards. The spokesperson said the UAPA empowers the authorities to designate individuals and organizations as terrorists based on “imprecise criteria.”
“It raises serious concerns relating to the right of presumption of innocence along with other due process and fair trial rights. The Act is also increasingly being used to stifle the work of human rights defenders, journalists and other critics in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India,” the spokesperson said.
The body also urged Indian authorities to refrain from using the UAPA or other laws that restrict freedom of expression in cases involving civil society, media, and human rights defenders.
The UN Human Rights Office also raised concern over the rise in killings of civilians, including members of religious minorities, by armed groups in Kashmir this year and the killings of civilians by security forces and the secret disposal of their bodies. The body underlined the recent Hyderpora incident where four persons including three civilians were reportedly killed by armed forces.
“There should be prompt, thorough, transparent, independent and effective investigations into all killings of civilians, and families should be allowed to mourn their loved ones and seek justice,” the statement read.
“We acknowledge the need to prevent violence, but we are concerned at signs of a wider crackdown on civil society actors in Jammu and Kashmir. The use of sweeping counter-terrorism measures risks leading to further human rights violations and deepening discontent,” it added.
The rights body also called on the security forces and armed groups to exercise restraint, and to ensure that the rise in tensions in Jammu and Kashmir in recent weeks does not lead to further violence against the civilian population.