SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir
A group of British parliamentarians are urging India’s high commissioner in the UK to provide an update on the welfare of a Kashmiri rights defender who was arrested on Nov. 23 by India’s National Investigation Agency under an anti-terror law.
The detention of Khurram Parvez came days after he was stopped at New Delhi’s international airport from traveling to Geneva, where he was to attend the UN Human Rights Council’s 33rd session.
The British MPs said in a letter addressed to the high commissioner that “in their understanding,” Khurram’s arrest took place after his organization “criticized security forces for allegedly killing civilians during a controversial (Nov. 15) shootout with alleged rebels in Srinagar,” the capital of Jammu and Kashmir, an incident also known as the Hyderpora shootout.
“As you know his arrest has raised concerns not just in the United Kingdom, but in the United Nations, by Mary Lawlor, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, who made clear that Mr Parvez is not a terrorist but a human rights defender,” the letter reads.
“We understand that in addition to Mr Parvez, over the last 2 years nearly 2,500 Kashmiris have been detained under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which allows detention without charge for months,” it said.
The parliamentarians also sought India’s response to their request to establish an “independent and transparent inquiry into the killings of civilians by security forces at the Hyderpora shootout in November.”
On Nov. 18 the government in Indian-administered Kashmir ordered an inquiry into the shootout in which four persons were killed. The report of the inquiry, which was supposed to be completed in 15 days, has not yet been made public.
Families of three of the four deceased contested the police version of the incident and said their relatives had no ties to militancy. The police returned the bodies of two of the civilians to their families for last rites, a deviation from the norm under which the persons killed under the suspicion of being militants or their associates are buried in remote hamlets.
Khurram, currently in prison in India’s capital New Delhi, is the coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a highly respected rights group in the disputed region.
He won the 2006 Reebok Human Rights Award for his work, which he carried out despite losing a leg in an IED blast in 2004 while monitoring an election in a remote northern Kashmir hamlet.
On Sept. 21, 2016, he was put under preventive detention under the infamous Public Safety Act and released after 76 days.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – two regarding Kashmir.
Indian and Pakistani troops have also fought intermittently in the northern Siachen region since 1984. A cease-fire took effect in 2003.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting Indian rule for independence or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights groups, thousands have been killed in the conflict since 1989.