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India: UN experts urge release of prominent human rights defender after month-long detention

Photo: UNHCR/V. Tan
Photo: UNHCR/V. Tan

India: UN experts urge release of prominent human rights defender after month-long detention

A group of United Nations human rights experts today called on the Government of India to immediately release a prominent human rights defender who was arrested last month while on his way UN human rights meetings in Geneva, and has since remained under preventive detention.

“[Khurram Parvez’s] continued detention following his arrest just a few days before his participation in the UN Human Rights Council, suggests a deliberate attempt to obstruct his legitimate human rights activism,” the experts said in a news release issued today by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

According to the news release, On 14 September, while on his way to Geneva to attend the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council, Mr. Parvez was prevented from traveling out of India by airport authorities in the national capital, Delhi.

He was then detained on 16 September under sections 107 and 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code, released on 20 September, and detained again the same day.

The human rights defender remains in preventive detention, under the “highly controversial” Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, the release noted.

According to the UN rights experts, Mr. Parvez, who is the coordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCSS) as well as the chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), is a well-known and outspoken human rights defender with a longstanding and positive engagement with the UN human rights mechanisms.

The news release further noted that the rights experts conveyed their concerns to the Government of India, but the official information received so far did not provide clear details on the exact nature of the charges against Mr. Parvez, which, the release said “seem to rely mainly on vague accusations of alleged ‘anti-India’ activities, aimed at disrupting the public order.”

“We are concerned at the use of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act against Mr. Parvez, which permits administrative detention without judicial intervention for up to two years,” highlighted the experts, adding that they had “received allegations of this law often being arbitrarily applied to target human rights defenders.”

They also noted alarm at the lack of clarity as to why Indian authorities deemed it necessary to address this case outside the country’s ordinary laws.

The release added that on 13 October, a petition challenging Mr. Parvez’s detention under the Public Safety Act was listed before the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, yet the case has only been listed for hearing until 25 October.

“In a democratic society, the open criticism of Government is a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression of every person,” the experts stressed.

“We are seriously concerned that the arrest of Mr. Parvez may represent a direct retaliation for his legitimate activities as a human rights defender and the exercise of his fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of expression and association”, they concluded.

The UN human rights expressing concern in the statement included: