Anti-terrorism officers have arrested a journalist and rights group worker from Indian-administered Kashmir over accusations he was involved in “funding terror activities”, authorities said Tuesday.
Irfan Mehraj, a freelance journalist and magazine editor, was summoned on Monday to a police facility in the main city of Srinagar where members of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took him into custody, the agency said in a statement.
He had previously been questioned several times by NIA investigators, but was always let go.
Mehraj also worked with the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a prominent rights group whose founder Khurram Parvez has been detained by India since November 2021.
“Irfan Mehraj was a close associate of Khurram Parvez and was working with his organization,” the NIA statement said.
“Investigation revealed that the JKCCS was funding terror activities in the (Kashmir) valley and had also been in propagation of secessionist agenda in the Valley under the garb of protection of human rights.”
The rights group has monitored violence in the region for more than three decades, and its reports have exposed violations by both rebels and Indian government forces including torture, extra-judicial killings and unmarked mass graves.
Rights groups across the world have demanded the release of Parvez who, like Mehraj, was accused under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) -- a vaguely worded anti-terror law that effectively allows people to be held without trial indefinitely.
At least 2,300 people have been arrested under the UAPA in the Indian-controlled territory since 2019, when New Delhi canceled the region’s partial autonomy and brought it under direct rule.
Almost half of them are still in prison, though convictions under the law are very rare.
The Press Club of India on Tuesday said it “vehemently” opposed the law’s use against members of the media.
“The misuse of this draconian law by NIA in randomly arresting Irfan Mehraj, a journalist from Kashmir ominously points towards a violation of freedom of speech and expression,” the club said in a tweet. “We demand his immediate release.”
Since the 2019 changes, tensions have steadily risen in the highly militarized territory, which is also claimed by Pakistan.
Journalists have been routinely summoned for questioning over their work in recent years, dissent has been criminalized and protests made virtually impossible in the Indian-controlled territory.
The region was divided between the arch-rivals during their first war over its control soon after independence in 1947.
Since 1989, rebel groups have fought some 500,000 Indian soldiers deployed in the territory, demanding independence or its merger with Pakistan, leaving tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers and rebels dead so far.
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