India: Freed Kashmiri Rights Activist Vows to Fight On

Amin Masoodi
2016.12.12
Srinagar, India
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161212-IN-Parvez-1000 Human rights activist Khurram Parvez at his office in Srinagar, India, Dec. 12, 2016.
Amin Masoodi/BenarNews

Updated at 9:15 a.m. ET on 2016-12-13

A noted human rights activist said Monday he would keep campaigning to end alleged abuses by Indian security forces in conflict-torn Kashmir, although he just spent more than two months behind bars under a controversial act.

Khurram Parvez, 39, chairman of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, an NGO based in Manila, said his Sept. 16 arrest under the Public Safety Act (PSA) made him more determined than ever to carry on with his work.

The law allows the state to jail a suspect for up to two years without trial, but a local court ordered his release late last month, calling his detention “illegal” and blaming the government of abusing its powers.

His arrest came amid unrest in the region that followed the killing of a Kashmiri armed separatist leader in July. More than 100 people died and over 10,000 injured in subsequent clashes between anti-India protesters and security forces.

Indian police alleged that Parvez was instigating violence among the youth of Kashmir, a Himalayan region claimed in its entirety by rivals India and Pakistan and that has been gripped by a separatist insurgency since the late 1980s.

“He has been booked under the PSA only after his role in fomenting the law-and-order situation in Kashmir was ascertained, “Abdul Khan, the state’s Law and Justice minister, told BenarNews before Parvez was freed.

Nearly two weeks after his Nov. 25 release, Parvez told BenarNews in an interview at his office that his arrest had “not even slightly deterred” him.

BenarNews: You are the only rights activist to be arrested under the PSA during the latest unrest. Why do you think authorities singled you out?

Khurram Parvez: To be honest, I don’t know why authorities arrested me on grounds of instigating violence. I was in fact never a part of any protest demonstration nor did I ever push anyone toward the path of violence.

For almost two decades I have been documenting rights abuses committed by Indian security forces on the basis of facts and evidence. I have publicized the issue of several thousand unmarked graves in Kashmir and consistently demanded a thorough investigation to find out who[m] these graves belong to and how those people were killed.

I can’t say for sure, but the only reason I can come up with is that the authorities were feeling threatened and wanted to prevent me from doing my work. But by arresting me they have only managed to strengthen my resolve to fight rights abuses.

BN: Many feel you were jailed because you were critical of the Indian establishment.

KP: I may be critical of the Indian government. I have been raising my voice against extra-judicial killing, torture and enforced disappearances. But at the same time, I have also criticized separatists and militants. Criticism is important for any society to evolve.

I have been fighting for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue through an amicable dialogue. How is that criticism?

Even Kashmir’s Chief Minister [Mehbooba Mufti] has said repeatedly that the Kashmir issue is a political dispute that needs to be addressed though meaningful dialogue. If my opinion is the same as the chief minister’s, I am amazed that the government finds me at fault.

BN: According to the police dossier, your acts were aimed at maligning India’s credibility.

KP: I don’t feel the need to say anything in my defense. The court found the charges levelled against me as invalid and ordered my release.

BN: Did you face any kind of torture during your stay in prison?

KP: No, except the fact that my freedom was snatched away from me, I did not face any maltreatment in jail. The police officers behaved politely.

BN: Have you ever faced any criminal charges in the past?

KP: During the past 17 years that I have been into activism, there has not been a single police case against me. Yet, the police in its dossier claim that I am “incorrigible.” Why the police believe so, only they can answer.

I am a law abiding citizen.

BN: Why did you choose to become a rights activist?

Parvez: I made that decision after realizing the pain of the Kashmiri people. Thousands of survivors of disappeared people are living a miserable life in the absence of any proper source of income.

In the past two decades, my grandfather has been killed in indiscriminate firing by Indian security forces, I have lost my one leg in an explosion, which also killed a young colleague, and I have seen many of my friends being jailed for absolutely no reason.

All these things made me want to stand up and do something to fix the problem.

This story was corrected to reflect that the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances is based in Manila.

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