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India arrests prominent human rights activist in Kashmir amid clampdown

Khurram Parvez, a prominent human rights activist, was arrested Nov. 22 in an operation by India's anti-terrorism agency. (Courtesy of Bilal Bahadur)

NEW DELHI — India’s anti-terrorism agency Monday night arrested Khurram Parvez, a prominent human rights activist in Indian-administered Kashmir, after hours-long raids at his residence and office in Srinagar, according to his wife, Sameena Mir. The agency confirmed the arrest Tuesday but declined to provide details about the case.

Parvez, 44, is the program coordinator for the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, or JKCCS, a group that for decades has monitored and investigated human rights violations — including issues such as mass graves and allegations of abuse by Indian security forces — in Kashmir, a majority-Muslim region claimed by India and Pakistan.

The arrest of Parvez is an escalation in the crackdown in Kashmir that has swept up activists, journalists and even political leaders seen as critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which controversially revoked the region’s semiautonomous status in 2019, leading to protests.

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According to an arrest document reviewed by The Washington Post, Parvez has been charged under a stringent anti-terrorism law, accused of raising funds for terrorist acts. The provisions of the law, which critics call draconian, allow authorities to jail people without filing charges for three months — and that period can be extended.

Mir, Parvez’s wife, denied the charges and said she was not aware of what triggered the arrest. The family has not been served a copy of the case against him.

The authorities seized Parvez’s laptop, cellphones and a few books, including on Hindu nationalism, according to a document reviewed by The Post.

In October last year, the anti-terrorism investigation agency conducted raids against people in Kashmir, including Parvez, other activists and a journalist. The agency said it was investigating groups and individuals who were raising funds and using them to carry out “secessionist and separatist activities” in Kashmir.

In 2016, Parvez was prevented from leaving the country to participate in a session at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, where he was to have presented his organization’s findings on rights violations in Kashmir. He was jailed later for what the authorities described as activities supporting separatists. A court freed him more than two months later, calling his detention “illegal” and an “abuse of power.”

International rights groups expressed concern over the current arrest of Parvez and called on the Indian government for his immediate release.

“He’s not a terrorist, he’s a Human Rights Defender,” Mary Lawlor, a U.N. special rapporteur on human rights defenders, wrote in a tweet.

The Rafto Foundation, a Norway-based human rights nonprofit organization, which gave its 2017 award to the president of JKCCS, said the group and Parvez had “consistently espoused nonviolence and acted impeccably as human rights defenders.”

For decades, the Indian government has battled militants seeking Kashmir’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan.

In 2019, Modi undid seven decades of history by unilaterally revoking a constitutional measure that provided Indian-administered Kashmir a degree of autonomy and stripped the region of statehood, radically altering India’s relationship with the region.

The government said the decision, opposed by locals, would bring peace and development to Kashmir. In its aftermath, India instituted an unprecedented communications blackout and arrested thousands of civilians.

Parvez’s arrest followed a tense week in Kashmir. The region was convulsed by furious demonstrations after the deaths of two business executives during a raid by security forces at a shopping complex on Nov. 15.

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Officials said the two civilians were killed in crossfire during a gunfight with suspected militants and then were quickly buried. Prominent local political leaders, including Mehbooba Mufti, the former top elected leader of Jammu and Kashmir, accused police of using the men as human shields during the shootout and criticized counterinsurgency operations in the region that have left a trail of civilian deaths that have not been fully accounted for. For decades, Kashmiris have accused security forces of staging fake gunfights and covering up extrajudicial killings.

In the face of mounting public pressure, Kashmir’s lieutenant governor ordered a probe into the encounter, and officials agreed to return the bodies of the civilians to relatives. Shops, businesses and offices closed across the region in protest over the deaths.

Indian security forces last month launched a weeks-long campaign in a heavily forested region near the Pakistan border to search for militants responsible for killing nine Indian soldiers.

Irfan reported from Srinagar, India.

Read more:

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