(Geneva) – Indian authorities have detained a Kashmiri human rights activist after stopping him from traveling to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today. Khurram Parvez was arrested in his home on September 15, 2016, a day after being prevented from leaving the country with a group of rights activists who were traveling to Geneva to raise concerns about violations during the security force crackdown in Jammu and Kashmir to contain violent street protests.
The Indian authorities should immediately release Parvez and allow him to attend the Human Rights Council session.
“Indian authorities seem to have missed the irony of blocking a rights activist on his way to the Human Rights Council,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director at the International Commission of Jurists. “Monitoring and engagement by civil society is necessary to prevent human rights violations and ensure accountability.”
Parvez, 39, is chair of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and program coordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). He has documented cases of enforced disappearances and investigated unmarked graves in Kashmir. Parvez’s lawyer said that he was detained by Kashmiri police under “preventive detention” provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, including section 151 (arrest to prevent the commission of a cognizable offense). An Indian official told Human Rights Watch that Parvez was stopped from traveling and detained for questioning because he is being investigated for inciting violence.
The government’s actions against Parvez violate his right to freedom of movement. Under international human rights law, any restrictions on freedom of movement for security reasons must have a clear legal basis, be limited to what is necessary, and be proportionate to the threat. This is further supported by article 5 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which states that “for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, at the national and international levels ... to communicate with nongovernmental or intergovernmental organizations.”
Violent protests broke out in Jammu and Kashmir state after the killing of a Hizb-ul-Mujahedin militant, Burhan Wani, in an armed encounter on July 8. Since then, the authorities have placed large parts of the state under curfew restrictions to try to stop protesters who hurl stones at security forces and attack police posts. Security forces have used unnecessary lethal force to contain the violence, which has resulted in the death of 80 protesters and 2 police officers, with thousands injured. Some protesters, including children, were blinded by pellets fired from riot control guns.
While police have a duty to protect lives and property, under the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials they should use nonviolent means as far as possible, only use force when unavoidable and in a proportionate manner, and use lethal force only when absolutely necessary to save lives.
The authorities have also attempted to censor news and restrict access to information. The government shut down local newspapers for three days, blocked mobile internet services temporarily, and ordered local cable operators to block the transmission of five news channels on television.
India has failed to address longstanding grievances in Jammu and Kashmir. Numerous expert committees in India have recommended steps to address past human rights violations, including a repeal of the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, but the Indian government has ignored these recommendations.
“Khurram Parvez should be released if he hasn’t been charged because preventing open discussion of these issues, whether in India or Geneva, sends a message to Kashmiris that the government has no interest in addressing their concerns,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of trying to silence human rights activists, India should be addressing the serious human rights problems in Jammu and Kashmir and holding abusers to account.”