NIA Arrests Kashmiri Journalist Irfan Mehraj in Case Related to Alleged ‘Terror Funding’ by NGO
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Srinagar: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested a Kashmiri journalist Irfan Mehraj, 32, on Monday in a case related to prominent human rights group Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), where he had worked as a researcher.
In a statement, the investigating agency said that Mehraj’s arrest was the first in what they called an “NGO terror funding case” registered in October 2020.
Mehraj, according to the NIA, was a “close associate” of noted human rights defender Khurram Parvez. “Investigation revealed that the JKCCS was funding terror activities in the Valley and had also been in propagation of a secessionist agenda in the Valley under the garb of protection of human rights,” the statement read.
According to one Mehraj’s family member, the 32-year-old has been summoned by the agency several times since last year including to NIA’s Delhi office. On Monday, he was summoned again in Srinagar following which his family was later informed about his arrest. A copy of the FIR mentioning the cases under which he was booked was also provided to his family.
The 32-year-old journalist was currently working as an editor with TwoCircles.net and also contributed to organisations, including Al Jazeera, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, TRT and Himal Southasian. He had also founded an online literary magazine called Wande.
The NIA said it was probing the involvement of some Valley-based NGOs, Trusts and Societies in funding of “terror related activities” and their alleged links with militant outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM).
On November 22, 2020, the NIA arrested Parvez, programme coordinator of JKCCS and chairperson of Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, under several charges of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and “criminal conspiracy, waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the government of India, punishment for conspiracy to wage war against the government of India, raising funds for terror activities” amongst others.
The international human rights groups and bodies, including the UN, International Federation for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights have, however, defended both JKCCS and Parvez terming their work “important”. The groups have since been demanding his immediate release.
Mehraj’s arrest was also condemned by many in Kashmir including journalists who termed his arrest as a measure to silence the press in Kashmir. Referring to a recent fiasco involving a fraudster, who was provided with high security protocol, People’s Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti called out Mehraj’s arrest as a punishment for his work.
“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,” the former chief minister tweeted.
Mehraj is the fourth journalist to be jailed in the region, where media groups and rights bodies have claimed that the press freedom has declined significantly in recent years. Other journalists jailed by the authorities in J&K include Asif Sultan, Fahad Shah and Sajad Gul.
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