By Nita Bhalla
NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Indian government must immediately release a prominent Kashmiri human rights activist arrested last month on charges of involvement in activities against the public order, a group of United Nations experts urged on Wednesday.
Khurram Parvez, 39, coordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCSS) has long campaigned against human rights violations committed by state forces in India's volatile Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir.
In a statement issued by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), four Special Rapporteurs said Parvez's detention appeared to be an attempt by the government to stop his work.
"Mr. Parvez is a well-known and outspoken human rights defender who has had a long-standing and positive engagement with the U.N. human rights mechanisms," said the U.N. experts on arbitrary detention, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and enforced disappearances.
"His continued detention following his arrest just a few days before his participation in the U.N. Human Rights Council, suggests a deliberate attempt to obstruct his legitimate human rights activism."
Government and police officials in Kashmir declined to comment on the statement by the U.N. Special Rapporteurs Michel Forst, Sètondji Adjovi, Maina Kiai and David Kaye.
The JKCCS has published research into the role of Indian security forces in containing a separatist insurgency in India's Kashmir state that first flared a quarter of a century ago.
At least 78 civilians have been killed and thousands wounded in more than two months of clashes between protesters and security forces, sparked by the killing of a leading separatist militant in a joint army and police operation on July 8.
The unrest is the worst in the Muslim-majority region for six years, and critics have accused Indian forces of heavy-handedness as they struggle to contain the protests.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir since independence in 1947. Both claim the territory in full but rule it in part.
Parvez, who is also the chair of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), was stopped by authorities at New Delhi airport on Sept. 14 when he was on his way to Geneva to attend the U.N. Human Rights Council.
He was detained on Sept 16, released four days later and then detained again the same day.
The experts said they were concerned Parvez was still in preventive detention under the highly controversial Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, which allows for people to held for up to two years without judicial intervention.
India had so far provided no clear details on the exact nature of the charges against Parvez, and the government's rationale relied "mainly on vague accusations of alleged 'anti-India' activities" to disturb public order, said the statement.
"In a democratic society, the open criticism of Government is a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression of every person," the experts said.
"We are seriously concerned that the arrest of Mr. Parvez may represent a direct retaliation for his legitimate activities as a human rights defender and the exercise of his fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of expression and association."
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla. Additional reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar. Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)