The Editors Guild of India and Amnesty International have strongly spoken out against the arrest of Irfan Mehraj, a Kashmir-based journalist, by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
In a statement, Editors Guild expressed deep concern over what it called the ‘excessive use’ of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) against journalists, most recently, in the case of Mehraj.
According to reports, on 20 March 2023, Irfan was called by an investigator on his mobile phone and told to come to the local NIA office in Srinagar, where he was arrested and subsequently shifted to Delhi, the guild said.
Irfan has been booked under the UAPA. According to the NIA, Irfan was previously summoned to Delhi in a case related to ‘NGO terror funding’ and he cooperated. The NIA in its press note claimed he was a ‘close associate’ of Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez.
Irfan started his career as a journalist in 2015 and covered politics and human rights extensively. He has written for several publications about the situation in Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370. He runs an online publication called Wande Magazine.
Irfan’s arrest continues a trend in Kashmir of security forces arresting journalists because of their critical reporting of the establishment, the guild said. These include journalists Aasif Sultan, Sajad Gul, and Fahad Shah.
The guild had urged the state administration to respect democratic values and stop the alleged harassment of journalists in the name of national security.
In another statement, Aakar Patel, chair of the board at Amnesty International India, said: “The arrest of Kashmiri journalist Irfan Mehraj under terror charges is a travesty. The arrest is yet another instance of the long-drawn repression of human rights and the crackdown on media freedoms and civil society in the region of Jammu and Kashmir. The stifling of the rights to freedom of expression and association continues unabated in Kashmir.
“Human rights defenders such as Irfan Mehraj should be encouraged and protected, not persecuted. He must be immediately released. The repression must stop. Criminalization of legitimate human rights work is extremely alarming and the authorities must put an end to this immediately.
“Indian authorities should prioritize ending impunity for the human rights violations that human rights defenders and journalists have bravely documented and exposed, especially in Jammu and Kashmir, and ensure that human rights defenders and activists can work in a safe and enabling environment without any fear of reprisals,” Patel said.
Amnesty International with 10 other leading human rights organizations had earlier called for the immediate and unconditional release of Khurram Parvez, who was arrested on November 22, 2021 on terrorism and other charges.
Amnesty International had also documented the intensive crackdown on journalists and human rights defenders in Kashmir, with more than 60 instances in the three years since August 2019. Amnesty International had also previously called on Indian authorities to repeal or substantially amend the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.