Karapatan asserts call to free Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez

Photo courtesy of Bilal Bahadur

Karapatan together with other human rights defenders in the Philippines stand in solidarity with the call to free Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez as we strongly denounce his arrest and the Indian government’s worsening crackdown on dissent — especially its attacks and terror-tagging against civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and journalists documenting the human rights violations taking place in Jammu and Kashmir.

Parvez has been arbitrarily detained since November 22, 2021 after officials of India’s National Investigation Agency raided his home and office, seized several electronic devices and documents, and arrested him on trumped-up and fabricated allegations of funding terrorism, being a member of a terrorist organization, criminal conspiracy among others, under India’s counterterrorism law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

As the program coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society and the chair of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, Parvez has documented cases of enforced disappearances and other human rights violations committed by Indian State security forces, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. Parvez was part of the research group that published a report in December 2009 on the investigation of thousands of unmarked graves in Kashmir.

For his work, Parvez has been repeatedly targeted and harassed by the Indian government. On September 14, 2016, immigration officials blocked Parvez from travelling to Geneva, Switzerland to attend the United Nations Human Rights Council session.  Two days later, he was arrested without warrant in his home and arbitrarily detained under the India’s Public Safety Act until he was released in November that year, after the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir declared his detention illegal.

Parvez’ arrest and detention last month has alarmed the United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, especially the increasing use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act “to stifle the work of human rights defenders, journalists and other critics in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India.” Indian authorities continue to commit atrocities with impunity as they threaten — if not blatantly silence — those who tirelessly demand and fight for justice and accountability.

Defending human rights is not and will never be terrorism, and we at Karapatan assert that a human rights defender like Parvez is not a terrorist. Rather than addressing terrorism, governments are increasingly utilizing counterterrorism laws such as India’s Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Philippines’ new Anti-Terrorism Act to terrorize their citizens and target human rights organizations by designating them and freezing their assets based on vague and overbroad definitions of “terrorism.”

In the Philippines, such terrorist-labelling and red-tagging has proven to be a death warrant: in 2018, the Philippine Department of Justice sought to proscribe more than 600 names — among them human rights workers, peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), and even then-UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz — as “terrorists” under the now-repealed Human Security Act.

While the list was eventually trimmed, at least seven in the list have been murdered since then, such as peace consultants Randy Felix Malayao and Randall Echanis as well as Karapatan human rights worker Zara Alvarez. May earlier this year, the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) arbitrarily designated NDFP peace consultants and peace panel members as “terrorists” through the Anti-Terrorism Act. The Philippine Supreme Court did not strike down the ATC’s arbitrary and deadly designation powers.

Karapatan joins human rights defenders across the world in ringing the call to free Parvez, for the Indian government to drop the fabricated charges and allegations against him, and for the Indian government to end its judicial harassment of human rights defenders, activists, and journalists in Jammu and Kashmir using counterterrorism laws. We assert and reiterate: defending human rights is not and will never be terrorism.