Stop the persecution of human rights defenders in India now

Parveena Ahangar of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and Khurram Parvez of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) are among several persons and organizations subjected to raids by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) of India, starting in the morning yesterday 28 October. The Rafto Foundation demands that all unfounded charges against these citizens and organizations be dropped, and that their property be returned, immediately.

See our statement appealing for immediate halt of these actions here.

According to the information we have received, the raid lasted through the entire day, and several other persons and organizations are subject to similar actions today 29 October. The raids against Ahangar and Parvez affected several other members of their families and were experienced as very intimidating. The raids included violation of their privacy, their freedom of movement, their right to communicate with others, and the property rights of both the persons and the organizations in question. An obvious consequence of this intimidation and confiscation is that the important human rights work of both organizations is likely to be inhibited.

The Rafto human rights prize for 2017 was awarded to Parveena Ahangar as Chairperson of APDP, and Parvez Imroz as President of JKCCS. Among the most recognized contributors to the work of JKCCS is Khurram Parvez, who is also Chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD). The work of Khurram Parvez and JKCCS to document human rights violations in Kashmir under very difficult circumstances has received high praise from international legal experts. The work of Ahangar, as founder of APDP to overcome her own trauma and to support other families who have been bereaved of loved ones or traumatized by the ongoing violence, has earned her the affectionate name of “Iron Lady of Kashmir”. They have consistently espoused non-violence as human rights defenders with impeccable reputations among the most respectable international institutions.

Already while the raids were ongoing, they were implicitly accused in a statement released by the NIA in Indian media of utilizing funds for secessionist and terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir. These charges are wholly implausible.

“We find it very disturbing that branches of the Indian government intimidate citizens working to secure the values and norms enshrined both in the constitution of India and in international treaties ratified by the Indian government,” stated Director of the Rafto Foundation Jostein Hole Kobbeltvedt. “The allegations made in the NIA statement appear wholly implausible to us. We have worked closely with APDP and JKCCS for almost three years, discussing all aspects of their situation. Their denouncement of political violence has been vehement and absolute, whenever the subject of other actors perpetrating such acts came up. All our work has been directed towards raising awareness about human rights violations by the democratic means of public discussion.”

This aggressive invasion into and constriction of the space of human rights defenders and their organizations unfortunately fits a pattern of behavior by the Indian government.

After the UN OHCHR reports on human rights in Kashmir of 14 June 2018 and 8 July 2019, the unilateral change of the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir by the Indian government on 5 August 2019, and the controversies relating to the Citizenship Amendment Act of 11 December 2019,

the attention of the international community to human rights violations in India has intensified significantly. Unfortunately, India has refused to engage in any sincere discussion of allegations about human rights violations reported by civil society or by international organizations such as the Office of the High Commissioner or the Special procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Thousands of Indian civil society organizations addressing human rights questions of one kind or another have been subjected to constraints on their funding, harassment in the media or by government, or what appears to be frivolous legal prosecution. The most recent and very ominous effect of this behavior is the sad, but very understandable, decision of Amnesty International to close their offices in India.

The Rafto Foundation appeals to the United Nations, and to all states committed to the protection of human rights, to express their unequivocal condemnation of the persecution of human rights defenders in India, and warn in the clearest possible terms against pursuing prosecution of human rights defenders on national security grounds, an act that poses a grave threat both to rule of law and democracy in a state that professes to be the world’s largest democracy, and to the efforts of international society to uphold these values.