UN seeks release of Kashmiri activist Khurram Parvez, amendment in UAPA
GENEVA (KMS) – The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) voiced deep concern at the recent arrest of Khurram Parvez, a leading human rights defender in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) under a draconian law and called for his release.
The OHCHR spokesperson, Rupert Colville, in a statement issued in Geneva said, “We are deeply concerned at the arrest of Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez under Indian counter-terrorism legislation, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).”
Parvez, 42, is the programme coordinator for a widely respected rights group in the disputed territory, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), and chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD). He has now been in custody for more than a week.
“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,” the spokesman said.
In 2016, the spokesman said, Parvez was detained under another controversial law, the Public Safety Act, for two and a half months after being prevented from traveling to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. He was released after the IIOJK High Court declared his detention illegal.
The UAPA empowers the authorities to designate individuals and organizations as terrorists based on imprecise criteria, contains a vague and overly broad definition of ‘terrorist act’, allows people to be held in lengthy pre-trial detention and makes securing bail very difficult, the UN rights office spokesman pointed out. It raises serious concerns relating to the right of presumption of innocence along with other due process and fair trial rights, he said.
The OHCHR spokesperson said the Act is also increasingly being used to stifle the work of human rights defenders, journalists and other critics in IIOJK and in India.
Rupert Colville said, “In view of this context of previous reprisal for legitimate conduct, we call on the Indian authorities to fully safeguard his right to freedom of expression, association and personal liberty and to take the precautionary step of releasing him.”
“We reiterate our calls for the UAPA to be amended to bring it into line with international human rights law and standards, and urge the authorities, pending the law’s amendment, to refrain from using this or other laws unduly restricting freedom of expression in cases involving civil society, media, and human rights defenders,” he added.
OHCHR spokesperson said, at the same time, civilians have been killed by Indian forces in the name of counter-terrorism operations and their bodies on occasion disposed in secret. One of these incidents happened on 15 November when four people were killed in a reported gunfight in Srinagar’s Hyderpora area, he said. “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,” he added.