Srinagar: The United Nations (UN) on Wednesday urged Indian authorities to release prominent human rights defender Khurram Parvez, who was arrested recently on charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the body has reiterated should be amended.
Khurram was arrested more than a week ago by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) after the agency raided his residence and office premises in Srinagar on November 22. He was shifted to Delhi and booked by the investigation agency under serious charged of funding and aiding terror groups, a claim that many international rights groups and Khurram’s family and colleagues have refuted.
In a statement, a UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Rupert Colville said they were deeply concerned about the arrest of Khurram and urged 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 read.
The body pointed out that he was also detained under another controversial law, the Public Safety Act, for two and a half months after being prevented from travelling to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in year 2016. He was released after the Jammu and Kashmir High Court declared his detention illegal.
Khurram’s arrest has been followed by a global outrage with many claiming that he is being targeted for his work which is often critical of the government agencies and armed forces in the region. He has helped record and investigate human rights abuses in Kashmir and worked on key human rights reports from the region. His arrest is also seen by many as part of the larger crackdown on the critics of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) party and the government it leads in New Delhi.
The UN has also called for the amendment of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act or UAPA, the body said, which 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 Geneva-based international body said that the UAPA should be amended to bring it into line with international human rights law and standards and urged Indian authorities to refrain from using this or other laws that restricts freedom of expression in cases involving civil society, media, and human rights defenders.
The UN Human Rights Office also said that it is increasingly alarmed by the rise in killings of civilians, including members of religious minorities, by armed groups in Kashmir this year and also expressed concern over the killings of civilians by security forces and the secret disposal of their bodies. The body mentioned the case of Hyderpora operation in which 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.