By Tara Dorabji
India, the world’s largest democracy, continues to use draconian laws to silence and incarcerate journalists and human rights defenders in Kashmir. On February 4, Fahad Shah, founder and editor of the Kashmir Walla was arrested by local police for “uploading anti-national content…to create fear among the public.” On January 6, Kashmiri journalist Sajad Gul was arrested and later booked under the Public Safety Act, which allows for the detention of civilians for up to two years. One of the most prominent arrests is that of human rights activist Khurram Parvez on November 22, 2021.
The state of India deploys 700,000 armed forces in Indian-administered Kashmir, making it one of the world’s most densely militarized zones. The United Nations’ 2018 Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir found that Indian authorities have used excessive force to suppress the movement for self-determination, including unlawful killings, torture, disappearances, and rapes.
Within hours of Parvez’s arrest, Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur HRDs tweeted, “He’s not a terrorist, he’s a Human Rights Defender.” Headlines from the BBC to the New York Times decried India using anti-terrorist laws to arrest a prominent human rights defender.
This isn’t the first time Parvez was arrested. In 2016, Parvez was imprisoned for 76 days. He was arrested the day after he was barred from traveling to Switzerland to attend the 33rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to testify about human rights violations in Kashmir.
In December 2021, Parvez was transferred to Tihar Jail, a maximum security jail and the largest prison in South Asia. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that his arrest was a “new incident of retaliation for his legitimate activities as a human rights defender” and called on Indian authorities for his immediate release. To this day, Parvez has not been charged.
Parvez is the chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances and Program Coordinator at the Jammu Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society (JKCCS). His work includes co-authorship of dozens of reports including Alleged Perpetrators, which documented 214 human rights crimes in Jammu and Kashmir involving 500 perpetrators, including 235 army personnel, 123 paramilitary members, and more than 100 police officers. In 2019, JKCCS released the first comprehensive report on torture in the region which documented that 70 percent of torture survivors are civilians.
In a 2011 interview with David Barsamian, director of Alternative Radio, Parvez said, “We believe that memory is the most important tool which oppressed people have. Oppressors want us to have amnesia, that we forget everything. Our memory will always help us to sustain the struggle against injustice.”
International pressure continues to mount for the release of Khurram Parvez and other journalists and human rights defenders. From Roger Waters of Pink Floyd to 29 cross-party members of Parliament in the United Kingdom, people around the world are asking India to uphold the human rights of Kashmiris. In January, the London-based law firm Stoke White filed an application under the principal of “universal jurisdiction” with British police for the arrest of Indian Army Chief and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah, citing war crimes in Kashmir that include kidnapping, torture, and killings of activists and journalists.
Khurram Parvez remains in custody. When released from jail in 2016, Parvez said, “You know, I consider this jail and detention of 76 days as feedback from the government – and the feedback is that our work does affect them. Sometimes, we feel that our work is not being heard and there is no response from the government. So, this is the response from the government! Unfortunately, it is still violent.”
Human rights defenders and activists continue to advocate for Khurram Parvez, Fahad Shah, Sajad Gul, and for justice in Kashmir.
Tara Dorabji is a writer, radio journalist, mother, filmmaker and vice president at the Center for Cultural Power, a home for artists and activists. Her work is published in Al Jazeera, the Chicago Quarterly, Huizache, and acclaimed anthologies including Good Girls Marry Doctors and All the Women in My Family Sing. She received a 2019 and 2021 Arts Commission from the San Francisco Arts Commission for her writing and documentaries on Kashmir. Her documentary film on torture in Kashmir, Here Still, screened at more than a dozen film festivals throughout Asia and the USA.