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New Delhi: The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR) on Wednesday, December 22 issued a statement in which it noted that Khurram Parvez’s recent arrest is a “new incident of retaliation for his legitimate activities as a human rights defender” and called on Indian authorities for his immediate release in the “context of previous reprisals”.
The statement was signed by a number. of UN human rights experts.
The National Investigative Agency (NIA) arrested Parvez on November 22 this year after extensive raids were carried out at his residence as well as his office in Srinagar under various provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
“Parvez has worked extensively to document serious human rights violations, including enforced disappearances and unlawful killings, in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. In his search for accountability, Mr. Parvez has been victim of a number of incidents of reprisals reportedly for sharing this information with the United Nations, as documented in various reports of the Secretary-General and communications from UN special procedures mandate holders,” the OHCHR the present statement read.
“We regret that the Government continues to use the UAPA as a means of coercion to restrict civil society’s, the media’s and human rights defenders’ fundamental freedoms in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir as well as in the rest of the country. We therefore once again urge the Government to bring this legislation in line with India’s international legal obligations under human rights law,” the experts said.
Parvez was charged under IPC Sections 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 121 (waging war against the government of India) and 121 A (punishment for conspiracy to wage war against the government of India) as well as Sections 17 (raising funds for terror activities), 18 (punishment for conspiracy), 18 B (recruiting any person or persons for commission of a terrorist act), 38 (offence relating to membership of a terrorist organisation) and 40 (offence of raising fund for a terrorist organisation) of the UAPA, according to a copy of Khurram’s arrest memo accessed by The Wire.
Following his arrest, the OHCHR had made its reservations known, with the Office’s official spokesperson Rupert Colville saying that there was a “deep concern” over the arrest as well as India’s frequent use of the “vague” UAPA.
UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Mary Lawler had taken to Twitter to express her concern.
I’m hearing disturbing reports that Khurram Parvez was arrested today in Kashmir & is at risk of being charged by authorities in #India with terrorism-related crimes. He’s not a terrorist, he’s a Human Rights Defender @mujmash @RaftoFoundation @GargiRawat @NihaMasih pic.twitter.com/9dmZOrSwMY
— Mary Lawlor UN Special Rapporteur HRDs (@MaryLawlorhrds) November 22, 2021
Indian authorities, however, dismissed these concerns with Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi saying that the Office’s statement makes “baseless and unfounded allegations”.
In the current statement, the OHCHR notes that the Rohini jail complex, where Parvez is currently being held, is among the three most crowded and unsanitary prisons in the country and that, as a consequence, Parvez faces a risk to his health and safety “particularly from COVID-19”.
The OHCHR also said, as it has earlier as well, that the 2019 amendment to the UAPA has led to an expansion of state agencies’ discretionary powers under the law and “has resulted in a worrisome rise in the number of arrests across India, especially in Kashmir.”
In this context, the statement quoted the human rights experts as saying, “We therefore once again urge the Government to bring this legislation in line with India’s international legal obligations under human rights law.”
The statement was undersigned by Luciano Hazan (Chair-Rapporteur), Aua Baldé (Vice-Chair), Tae-Ung Baik, Gabriella Citroni, Henrikas Mickevičius, Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while counter-terrorism; and Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.