Members of Parliament have asked India to provide updates about the welfare of the Kashmiri human rights defender, Khurram Parvez.
Parvez was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Srinagar on multiple charges of “terrorism” and “funding terrorist activities” in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK).
He is a program coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS). Reports by JKCCS played a pivotal role in the first-ever report published in 2018 by the UNHRC, which calls for an international inquiry into multiple human rights violations in Kashmir.
Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth and Chair of the Kashmir All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), wrote a letter to the High Commissioner of India to the UK seeking details on the current situation in Kashmir.
The letter was signed by 29 cross-party MPs asking India to uphold the human rights of Kashmiris in IOK.
The letter reads: “Further to my letter of 1st December 2021, Parliamentary colleagues from all political parties, and from both Houses of Parliament, beseech you to respond to our request for an update on the welfare of Khurram Parvez, the Kashmiri human rights activist, who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency in Srinagar Indian-administered Kashmir, and who is currently reported to be imprisoned in New Delhi.
“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 added: “The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has also issued a statement expressing their deep concern on the arrest of Mr Parvez. 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.”
Meanwhile, United Nations (UN) human rights experts on Wednesday sought the release of Khurram Parvez.
The UN independent experts said in a statement: “We are concerned that even 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 rights defender and because he has spoken out about violations…
“In view of this context of previous reprisals, we call on the Indian authorities to immediately release him and ensure his rights to liberty and security.
“We regret that the government continues to use the UAPA as a means of coercion to restrict civil society’s, the media’s and human rights defenders’ fundamental freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir as well as in the rest of the country. We once again urge the government to bring this legislation in line with India’s international legal obligations under human rights law,” the experts said.
There are also alarming reports regarding recent so-called “fake encounters,” where alleged “terrorists” have been killed by Indian armed forces and/or police, but in fact have been found to be civilians.
“The latest of these was a reported ‘shootout’ in a shopping complex in Srinagar. Indian police initially described the incident, which took place last month, as a counter-insurgency operation in which two militants and their associates had been killed in this gunfire. However, the families of three of the men that died have accused Indian forces of killing civilians and using them as human shields,” the letter said.
Debbie Abrahams abhorred the Indian authorities’ refusal to initially hand over the bodies to the families which were buried in a graveyard 80 kilometres away. “What is the justification for this?” she asked.
“This incident follows Indian forces claiming they had killed three unidentified hard-core terrorists in a gunfight in Amshipora village of Kashmir’s Shopian district last July 2020, only to have the families of these young men strongly dispute that this is the case.”
The letter quoted Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, who has called on the Indian authorities to conduct a transparent, credible and independent investigation into the Srinagar shopping complex incident.
“We understand that Magisterial Inquiries are normally required in these circumstances, but given 108 magisterial probes have been ordered in Kashmir in the aftermath of violent incidents since 2008, and that none of the reports from these have been made public, nor has a single person been convicted, there is not much trust in the process.” The letter said that as human rights advocates “we support Human Rights Watch’s request and look forward to your favourable response to this request.”
The letter was signed by the following MPs and Lords: Apsana Begum, Paul Blomfield, Paul Bristow, Liam Byrne, Stella Creasy, Judith Cummins, James Daly, Andrew Gwynne, Kate Hollern, Imran Hussain, Lord Qurban Hussain, Rupa Huq, Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece OBE, Kim Johnson, Tony Lloyd, Lord Wajid Khan, Kim Leadbeater, Khalid Mahmood, Layla Moran, Lord Purvis of Tweed, Yasmin Qureshi, Naz Shah, Baroness Sheehan, Chris Stephens, Zarah Sultana, Baroness Thornhill, Nadia Whittome and Mohammad Yasin