After arresting a prominent Kashmiri human rights defender in a midnight raid by police at his home in Srinagar on Thursday, the J&K government has put him under “preventive detention” and transferred him to a jail in Kupwara late on Friday night.
A day earlier, Khurram Pervez (39) was prevented by authorities to board a flight to Geneva, where he was scheduled to attend the ongoing United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) session. Khurram is presently Chairperson of Asian Federation Against involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and Program Coordinator of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and is internationally known for his human rights advocacy.
In 2006, Khurram received the Reebok Human Rights Award, a prestigious international prize that “recognizes young activists who have made significant contributions to human rights causes through nonviolent means”.
Though the authorities didn’t give any reason for Khurram’s arrest, a police officer said that a magisterate has issued orders to put him under “preventive detention” to “prevent him from causing a breach of peace”. The police officer said that the “decision to arrest him (Khurram) have come from the top” and they aren’t aware of its reasons. After keeping Khurram locked up in Kothibagh Police Station for 24 hours, the police finally sent him to a jail in Kupwara at 11.45 pm on Friday.
“From his midnight arrest to his midnight transfer to Kupwara sub-jail, the actions of the State against Khurram Parvez are intended to punish, intimidate and harass,’’ a statement issued by JKCCS President, Advocate Parvez Imroz said. “Khurram faces a serious and imminent security threat as every action of the State against him over the last three days has been of increased hostility and he is in an extremely vulnerable position today. This is a particularly disturbing example of the State using the coercive processes of law against a human rights activist who has consistently worked towards upholding principles of justice”.
This is the first such high profile arrest of a human rights activist in Kashmir in the recent past and is seen as part of government’s crackdown on civil society in the valley that is critical of the Mehbooba Mufti led government’s use of excessive force to quell the current uprising.
According to Khurram’s family members, he had returned home from Delhi on Thursday morning. The police officials from Kothibagh Police station, a close relative said, called him in the evening asking him to visit the police station because Superintendent of Police (SP) wanted to speak to him. “He called the SP and told him he will come at 10 am tomorrow,’’ the relative said. “Late in the night, a police party came to his home, asking him to accompany them to the police station.. They told us that he would have to stay in the police station”. Khurram’s family members also said that the police didn’t give any reasons for the arrest.
On Wednesday, Khurram was stopped by Immigration authorities at IGI airport in Delhi and disallowed to board a flight to Geneva. “At around 1.30 am, as I was about to board my flight to Geneva, I was stopped at immigration and detained for one-and-a-half hours. The officer had stamped my boarding pass but they subsequently disallowed me to proceed to board the flight,’’ he had told The Indian Express. Khurram had also said that he was “only orally informed that immigration officers had instructions that he was not to be arrested, but that he should not be allowed to leave the country”.
While Khurram was not allowed to board a flight to Geneva, the authorities subsequently allowed his two other colleagues, lawyers Parvez Imroz and Kartik Murukutla, to travel to attendongoing United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) session.
Though this is the first time Khurram has been arrested by the government for his work, he has made bigger personal sacrifices in his pursuit as a human rights and civil society activist in Kashmir. In fact, Khurram was instrumental to set up JK Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) – a voluntary group formed in 2000 with an aim to “reinforce civil society, protect human rights and replace the culture of intolerance by the culture of dialogue and understanding for ensuring peace and democracy”.
On April 20, 2004 while polling for general elections was going on in Kashmir, Khurram along with a friend and colleague Asiya Jeelani (29) were on their way to monitor the poll proceedings in the remote villages of Lolab. And as their car moved on the potholed road, a hidden mine exploded, throwing their car up like a ball of fire. Though Khurram was grievously injured and his leg had to be amputated, he survived. His friend and the driver didn’t make it. Khurram had motivated a group of students to volunteer for his organisation and join the monitoring the election process. “I felt scared, responsible for everyone’s safety. There was a big hole in my leg. Shrapnel had ripped the entire bone beneath the knee. My foot was hanging,” he had told The Indian Express about the incident. “I knew my leg was gone. I was in a lot of pain. But the only thing I could think about was how the work we were doing was important. We wanted civil society to be restored in Kashmir. We wanted the culture of debate to return. I promised myself that I would never succumb to personal pain.’’
Khurram was bed ridden for four months before he returned to his work again.
Subsequently, he was pivotal to organise first of its kind open debate in the valley, where pro-Independence leader Yasin Malik and pro-India leader Omar Abdullah spoke about their vision of Kashmir and answered questions of a large group of Kashmiri students. Over the years, Khurram has been at the centre of the projects carried out by JKCCS on serious human rights issues, civil society discussions and published detailed reports on enforced disappearances, mass graves, fake encounters, custodial killings and the half widows.
The organisation comes out with an annual human rights review and also publishes Voices Unheard—a magazine run by Kashmiri Women’s Initiative for Peace and Disarmament and a wing of JKCCS —where the group documents stories of the struggles of ordinary Kashmiri women.
A graduate from Media Education Research Centre, Khurram has also helped set up Global Vision—a voluntary group of media students and have already made two films – Chandov (the Search) which documented the sufferings of the parents of the men who disappeared during the conflict and on the life of Asiya Jeelani who was killed in the mine blast while on election monitoring project with Khurram.