US Religious Freedom Commission Lists Khurram Parvez, Siddique Kappan As Freedom of Religion Victims

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Siddique Kappan and Khurram Parvez.

The timely move will go a long way towards engaging government of India, in ensuring their freedom, says IAMC

Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) decision to list human rights defender Khurram Parvez and journalist Siddique Kappan on the Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) Victims List is welcomed by the Washington-based Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC). The FoRB list is a database of persons imprisoned or detained in a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).

Coming as it does at a time when human rights violations, including custodial killings, are rampant in India, the timely move will go a long towards engaging the government in ensuring safety of the victims and securing their freedom, says IAMC. This may work as India is a Country of Particular Concern, which USCIRF defines as a country that has engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious freedom.

India has been recommended as a CPC for two years in a row.

Khurram Parvez, who was arrested in November, is a world renowned human rights defender from Kashmir, the lone Muslim majority province in the country. He is the coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), an organisation that has repeatedly criticised the human rights abuses committed by Indian security forces in Kashmir.

Parvez has played an active role in documenting gross human rights abuses by security forces in Kashmir especially those perpetrated after the revocation of the region’s special autonomy in late 2019 by the Central government.

On November 22, 2021, he was arrested and detained on charges of “terror-funding,” “conspiracy”, and “waging war against the government of India”. The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a draconian law purportedly enacted to deal with terrorist activities, was invoked in his case.

On December 4, 2021, he was shifted to a high-security prison in New Delhi to await hearing even though the charges are leveled against him on flimsy grounds. Ever since, his current location is not known to anyone.

His arrest sparked international outrage and concern. On December 22, 2021, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for Parvez’s release in a statement.

“We are concerned that one month after Mr Parvez’s arrest, he is still deprived of liberty in what appears to be a new incident of retaliation for his legitimate activities as a human rights defender and because he has spoken out about violations,” the statement said.

According to the USCIRF, “Human Rights organisations allege Parvez’s arrest is motivated by his work documenting human rights violations committed by authorities in Kashmir, a Muslim-majority area.”

Siddique Kappan, a Muslim journalist from Kerala, is currently under detention in a jail in Uttar Pradesh since his arrest in October 2020. He was arrested on his way to Hathras, a district in the state, to report on the brutal rape and murder of a teenage Dalit girl. Authorities stated that Kappan was being held on baseless charges of “sedition,” “promoting enmity between groups,” “outraging religious feelings,” and “knowingly holding property derived or obtained from the commission of a terrorist act.”

The chargesheet against Kappan is an attempt to paint him as a journalist with an anti-Hindu agenda: “These writings of Siddique Kappan, to a great extent, can be classified as communal… During riots, taking the name of a minority and talking about events related to them can incite sentiments. Responsible journalists do not do such communal reporting. Kappan only and only reports to incite Muslims.”

Despite the flawed case against him, Kappan was charged under the UAPA and is incarcerated for over a year. According to the USCIRF, “In addition to catching COVID-19 [in prison], Kappan reportedly suffers from depression, anxiety, and poor eyesight. He has reportedly been unable to receive adequate medical care.”

Vindicated by the move of USCIRF, the IAMC, the Indian American Muslim Council, the largest advocacy organisation of Indian Muslims in the United States with chapters across the nation, reiterated its commitment to campaigning for justice for those wrongfully imprisoned for working to uphold India’s constitutional values of secularism and pluralism including Parvez and Kappan.

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