New Delhi continues to use controversial UAPA law as a means of "coercion" to restrict civil society, media, and human rights defenders in disputed Kashmir, says a group of top human rights experts.

Khurram Parvez's widely respected rights group has exposed rights violations by Indian troops including torture, extra-judicial killings, and unmarked mass graves in numerous reports.
Khurram Parvez's widely respected rights group has exposed rights violations by Indian troops including torture, extra-judicial killings, and unmarked mass graves in numerous reports. (Facebook)

A group of UN human rights experts has called on  Indian authorities to immediately release Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez, saying he is detained at one of India's three most "overcrowded and unsanitary jails" risking his health, in particular from coronavirus.

"We are concerned that one month after Mr. Parvez's arrest, he is still deprived of liberty in what appears to be a new incident of retaliation for his legitimate activities as a human rights defender and because he has spoken out about violations," the UN experts said on Wednesday.

India's top anti-terrorism investigation agency arrested Parvez in the restive India-administered Kashmir after raiding his home and office. 

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 received the Reebok Human Rights Award in 2006.

"Mr. Parvez has worked extensively to document serious human rights violations, including enforced disappearances and unlawful killings, in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir," the UN experts said. 

"In his search for accountability, Mr. Parvez has been the victim of a number of incidents of reprisals reportedly for sharing this information with the United Nations, as documented in various reports of the Secretary-General and communications from UN special procedures mandate holders."

JKCCS has monitored violence in the Himalayan region for more than three decades and has exposed rights violations by Indian government forces including torture, extra-judicial killings, and unmarked mass graves in numerous reports.

Last month, it criticised Indian troops for killing civilians during a controversial shootout with alleged rebels in main Srinagar city whose bodies were hurriedly buried by Indian police in a remote graveyard without their families present.

Following an outcry and protests by the families of three of the victims, authorities exhumed two of the bodies and returned them to their families.   

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Draconian terror law 

At least 2,300 people have been arrested under the UAPA –– a vaguely worded law that effectively allows people to be held without trial indefinitely –– in the Indian-controlled territory since 2019 when New Delhi cancelled the region's partial autonomy and annexed it. 

Almost half of them are still in prison, and convictions under the law are very rare.

UN rights experts such as Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on human rights defenders. Fionnuala Ni Aolain, special rapporteur on the protection of human rights in counter-terrorism, and Morris Tidball-Binz, special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, have been calling for Pervez's release. 

The experts said he is detained at the Rohini Jail Complex, one of India's three most overcrowded and unsanitary prisons, where there is an immediate risk to his health and safety, particularly from Covid-19.

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The UN experts said India continues to use the controversial UAPA as a means of "coercion" to restrict civil society, the media's, and human rights defenders' fundamental freedoms in India-administered Kashmir. 

Pervez was arrested and detained on similar charges in 2016, after being prevented from boarding a flight to attend a UN human rights forum in Geneva. He was eventually released without being convicted of any crime.

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Indian curbs on foreign observers, UN

The Muslim-majority Kashmir region has been the source of decades of tensions between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan.

Both countries claim the Himalayan territory in full but rule it in part, and have fought two wars against each other there.

India has long faced allegations of rights abuses in its portion of the territory, charges New Delhi denies.

It tightly controls access to Kashmir for foreign observers, including the UN.

Since 1989, resistance groups have fought some 500,000 Indian soldiers deployed in the territory.

Most Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers, and rebels have died in the conflict so far.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies