New Delhi: Several journalists’ and rights bodies and prominent activists, along with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, have expressed concern at the arrest of Kashmiri journalist Irfan Mehraj by the National Investigation Agency on March 20.
The NIA has claimed Mehraj is its first arrest in the ‘NGO-terror funding case’. Incarcerated Kashmir human rights activist Khurram Parvez is also an accused in the same case. Several persons have been questioned in the case by the agency.
The UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor tweeted deep concern over Mehraj’s incarceration and called for his release.
I'm deeply concerned about Kashmiri HRD and journalist @IrfanMeraj. He was called to come to the @NIA_India office in Srinagar and arrested in a 2020 case, accused of serious offences. I call for his immediate release.@IndiaUNGeneva @India_NHRC
— Mary Lawlor UN Special Rapporteur HRDs (@MaryLawlorhrds) March 21, 2023
Among journalists’ collectives, the Press Club of India, Editors Guild of India and the Journalist Federation of Kashmir also criticised the action.
“EGI is deeply concerned about the excessive use of UAPA against journalists, most recently, in the case of the arrest of Irfan Mehraj, a Kashmir-based journalist, by the NIA. The Guild urges the state administration to respect democratic values,” EGI said.
EGI also said that 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,” it added.
EGI is deeply concerned about the excessive use of UAPA against journalists, most recently, in the case of the arrest of Irfan Mehraj, a Kashmir-based journalist, by the NIA. The Guild urges the state administration to respect democratic values. pic.twitter.com/yJf4CXDody
— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) March 22, 2023
“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,” Amnesty International said in a statement.
“Human rights defenders such as Irfan Mehraj should be encouraged and protected, not persecuted,” Aakar Patel, the chair of board at Amnesty International India, said.
The PCI called the imposition of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act on a journalist a reflection of the “violation of freedom of speech and expression.”
We vehemently oppose the imposing of UAPA on mediapersons. 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. We demand his immediate release pic.twitter.com/Vy2XEVQWEO
— Press Club of India (@PCITweets) March 21, 2023
In an eight-thread tweet, the Journalist Federation of Kashmir noted that Mehraj is a hardworking journalist who has written for global outlets.
“Three journalists from Kashmir, Asif Sultan, Sajad Gul and Fahad Shah, are already in jail,” the JFK tweeted.
Journalist Federation of Kashmir condemns the arrest of a prominent journalist Irfan Mehraj on March 20, 2023 by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
Mehraj was arrested in Srinagar and then shifted to New Delhi.
— Journalist Federation of Kashmir (@pressfreedomJFK) March 21, 2023
While conmen are given a free run in Kashmir, journalists like Irfan Mehraj are arrested for doing their duty by speaking the truth. Draconian laws like UAPA are abused constantly to ensure that the process itself becomes the punishment. https://t.co/j5mwDgQ9la
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) March 21, 2023
“The arrest of Irfan Mehraj is a continuation of the relentless assault on free press and the freedom of speech in Jammu and Kashmir. We demand his immediate release” — @AilajHq pic.twitter.com/3I3w0VRWdU
— Suchitra Vijayan (@suchitrav) March 21, 2023
Kashmiri journalist Irfan Mehraj has been arrested under UAPA by the NIA. The Press Club of India calls this move draconian! It is a sad state of affairs that con men move around with Z+ security in Kashmir, & Journalists are slapped with UAPA simply for doing their job!
— Dr. Shama Mohamed (@drshamamohd) March 22, 2023