The Jammu and Kashmir Police arrested well-known Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Pervez from his home in Srinagar late Thursday night. A day earlier, he was stopped at Delhi’s IGI Airport from boarding a flight to Geneva, where he was going to attend the ongoing UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) session. Khurram, 39, chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and programme coordinator of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), has been put under “preventive custody” and kept at Kothibagh Police Station.
A police officer who is aware of the case refused to give a reason for Khurram’s arrest, only saying Sections invoked are regarding “breach of peace”. This is the first such high-profile arrest of a human rights activist in Kashmir in recent past and is seen as part of the government’s crackdown on the civil society, which has been critical of the Mehbooba Mufti government’s use of excessive force to quell the current uprising.
After Khurram returned from Delhi Thursday morning, family members said, police officials asked him to visit Kothibagh Police Station in the evening. He was reportedly told that the Superintendent of Police (SP) wanted to speak with him.
“He called up the SP and told him he would go the following (Friday) morning at 10,” a close relative said. “Late in the night, a police party came to his home and asked him to accompany them to the police station. There wasn’t any officer at the police station at the time. They told us that he would have to stay in the police station.”
Khurram’s family members said the police did not give any reasons for the arrest. On Wednesday, Khurram was stopped by immigration authorities at IGI Airport. “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.
Pervez had also said that he was “only orally informed” that immigration officers had “instructions” that he was not to be arrested – but he should also not be allowed to leave the country. The authorities subsequently allowed his two other colleagues, lawyers Parvez Imroz and Kartik Murukutla, to travel to attend the UNHRC session.
Although this is the first time Khurram has been arrested for his work, he has made bigger sacrifices for his commitment to human rights and civil society activism in Kashmir. On April 20, 2004, while polling for general elections was going on in Kashmir, Khurram and Asiya Jeelani (29), a friend and colleague, were traveling in Kupwara district to monitor poll proceedings in remote villages of Lolab. They were working for JKCCS, a voluntary group set up 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”.
As their car moved on the potholed road, a hidden mine exploded. Although grievously injured and his limb had to be amputated, Khurram 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 election-monitoring 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. 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 bedridden for four months and returned to his work soon after.
Subsequently, he was pivotal in organising a first-of-its-kind open debate where pro-Independence leader Yasin Malik and former chief minister Omar Abdullah spoke about their vision of Kashmir and answered questions of a large group of local students.
Over the years, Khurram has been at the centre of projects conducted by JKCCS on serious human rights issues, civil society debates and published detailed reports on enforced disappearances, mass graves, fake encounters, half-widows (whose husbands disappeared but have not been declared dead), besides coming out with annual human rights reviews. The organisation also runs ‘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 made two films: Chandov (The Search), which documented the sufferings of parents of men who disappeared during the conflict, and on the life of Asiya Jeelani, killed in the mine blast while on election monitoring project with Khurram in 2004.