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Thursday, November 26, 2020

‘Fund diversion’: NIA raids activists, journalists in J&K, triggers outrage

The Kashmir Editors’ Guild (KEG) condemned the raids and said that the local media “continues to get targeted, demonised, villified and raided by both the state and non-state actors...”

Written by Bashaarat Masood | Srinagar | Updated: October 29, 2020 7:15:24 am
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IN A coordinated action targeting activists, NGOs and news organisations based in J&K, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) said Wednesday that it has conducted searches at ten locations in Srinagar and Bandipora, and one in Bengaluru, in connection with a case of funds being raised from “India and abroad in the name of charitable activities” and allegedly used “for carrying out secessionist and separatist activities in J&K”.

The locations that were targeted included the offices of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), English daily Greater Kashmir and NGO Athrout — and the residences of leading activists, including JKCCS coordinator Khurram Parvez.

The action drew sharp criticism from political leaders in the Valley, with PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti describing it as a “vicious crackdown on freedom of expression” and Peoples Conference president Sajad Lone saying that the “raids add to the environment of fear”.

The Kashmir Editors’ Guild (KEG) condemned the raids and said that the local media “continues to get targeted, demonised, villified and raided by both the state and non-state actors…”

The NIA said in a statement that it “conducted searches at 10 locations in Srinagar & Bandipora (J&K) and 1 location in Bangalore in connection with a case pertaining to certain so-called NGOs and Trusts raising funds in India and abroad in the name of charitable activities and then using those funds for carrying out secessionist and separatist activities in J&K”.

The agency claimed that “several incriminating documents and electronic devices have been seized.”

It said that the raids were part of a case registered on October 8, based on “credible information that certain NGOs and Trusts are collecting funds domestically and abroad through so-called donation and business contributions, etc., and are then utilising these funds for secessionist and terrorist activities in J&K”.

Among the entities raided was JKCCS, a federation of rights groups and activists in J&K that was founded in 2000 by Parvez Imroz. Its coordinator Khurram Parvez, whose residence was searched, also serves as Chairman of Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and was recipient of the 2006 Reebok Human Rights Award. Parvez had lost his leg in a landmine while monitoring the 2004 Parliamentary elections.

The agency also searched the residences of Parvez Ahmad Matta, a JKCCS office-bearer, and Parveena Ahanger, chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) who won the 2017 Rafto Prize for Human Rights.

The residence of journalist Parvez Bukhari, who works for the wire service Agence France Presse (AFP), was also searched with the NIA describing him as “an associate” of Parvez.

The NIA said its raids also focused on Greater Kashmir Trust, which was founded after the 2014 floods and is affiliated to GK Communications, which runs Greater Kashmir and the Urdu daily Kashmir Uzma. Greater Kashmir founder and owner Fayaz Ahmad Kaloo had been summoned by the agency last year.

NIA officers also raided the office of Athrout, which is a prominent charitable group that runs a dialysis centre in Srinagar and a fleet of ambulances, and provides medicine at discounted rates. The NGO has been active in tackling the Covid outbreak and donated six portable ventilators to the Shere Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS).

In a statement posted on social media, Athrout said: “We would like to inform all our well wishers that NIA visited our Head office today. They had a few queries regarding our working, which were asked in a very friendly & professional manner & all the required details were provided accordingly & transparently.” It said that its “operations will continue as normal”.

Reacting to the raids, former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti posted on Twitter: “NIA raids on human rights activist Khurram Parvez & Greater Kashmir office in Srinagar is yet another example of GOIs vicious crackdown on freedom of expression & dissent. Sadly, NIA has become BJP’s pet agency to intimidate & browbeat those who refuse to fall in line.”

Peoples Conference President Sajad Lone said: “NIA raids add to the environment of fear. GK essentially was one institution which struggled its way to the top. The institution now stares helplessly as fear and slander take over. Hoping against hope that sanity prevails.”

The Kashmir Editors’ Guild said: “Though NIA said that the raid was on GK Trust, GK Management said the investigating agency checked the computers and took away the hard disks…KEG expresses its concern over the mounting costs of being a journalist in Kashmir. It hopes that Kashmir media is permitted to function without hassles and hurdles.”

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